I’ve been talking about the problems that exist when people assume things about the records we use. Here is a follow-up.
US Census records included more and more (or different) information in almost every successive year. As I mentioned before, 1790-1840 censuses listed heads of household only. But in 1850 they included the names of all people in the household, with their ages, but did not indicate how the people were related to each other. Since many people took in family members, a child in a home, even if he/she had the same surname as the “man of the house,” could not be assumed to be his child. By 1880, they learned. This helps a lot. Also, eventually occupations, birth locations (and, in time, locations of the births of each listed person’s parents). In 1900, things got even better - that census included the birth month and year; but that info was not repeated in later years. We do get information about when the people got married, how many times they had been married (not consistently, but sometimes), relationships to head of household, income information, property value, and education all give us a sense of who the people were. Hence, the use of these documents to get rolling on who the people were.
When we add City Directories (the precursors to telephone directories), we can learn if people moved between years of the census. But they are not all on the Internet, so sometimes we have to contact libraries in other areas for information from the directories that might be helpful. This involves searching in individual volumes . . . and it can be long and tedious, especially if alternate spellings of a name need to be considered.
One word about names: people often altered names (and for many reasons), so a Velton could be a Felton; a Bounder could be a Pounder; a Kroch could be a Crock; etc. So when we look in indexes, we have to look for alternate spelling options . . . again, time consuming.