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Tackling Census Data in TMG

I mentioned earlier that I’m experimenting with the GRAMPS family tree software. I’m still waffling on whether to make that switch. Adopting another application would be nothing short of life-changing. I have no idea how much time I’ve invested into TMG, but it could probably be measured in the 1,000s of hours. Any move to another application would almost certainly mean that some of that data would be lost. I probably wouldn’t lose names, dates, and relationships, but would probably lose a great deal of painstakingly recorded sources. So, while I weigh which way to go, I continue to enter data and learn about TMG.

Today, I experimented with recording and reporting census data. To date, I’ve been using tags for each individual, i.e., if John Stanley appeared in the 1880 census, I would give him a “Cen 1880” tag. I would also include the date and place of enumeration, dwelling and family numbers, his age, birthplace, and occupation. If he had six people in his household, each person that was enumerated with him would also get a “Cen 1880” tag. Though inelegant, I liked being able to see (at a glance) if a given individual was missing the census tag for a given year. The problem with this method is that the structure of each household is lost. This has bugged me for sometime but I didn’t know what to do about it. I have used thousands of census tags, and am not about to go back through the database and change everything. Today, I found a solution.

The first thing I did was look at how other TMG users handle census data. The program is very customizable and there’s no one right way to handle censuses. A number of published solutions (here, here, and here) suggest establishing one census tag per household and attaching all other members as witnesses to the Principal. I’ve known about this solution for years but never implemented it because I didn’t like a bunch of undifferentiated Witness tags floating around. After clicking around the Master Tag Type List, I discovered that within a given tag’s properties (Tools > Master Tag Type List > Cen 1880 > Edit) there’s an option (in the Other tab) to use the tag’s original title, rather than Witness (Display Witnessed Tags / Using the Label Above). Now, even the witnesses to the primary “Cen 1880” tag have the same apparent tag. Squee!

Attaching people to the Principal as Witnesses recreates the census households, it does not however give a sense for the household’s structure. For that, I created dozens of roles for each census tag. Within the “Cen 1880” tag, I currently have the following roles: Head, Wife, Dau01, Dau02 thru Dau10, Son01, Son02 thru Son10, and Boarder. I can add more as needed, e.g. Mother-in-Law, Grandmother. Each of these roles has a sentence associated with it. Dau02 for instance, has: “[RG:Dau02]<,  aged [WM],> appears in the 1880 Federal Census <at [L]> as the daughter of [P].” Since the roles are gender specific, there’s no need to create a Female Sentence Structure under the Tag Type Definition. When adding Dau02 as a witness, I now enter her census given age (whether it’s correct or not) in the Edit Witness / Memo field. That supplies the [WM] variable with the age required. Earlier censuses that do not list relationships include sentences like: “[RG:Enum02]<, aged [WM],> appears in the 1870 Federal Census <at [L]> in the household of [P].” Other than this, the sentences do not vary much between censuses, so I used cut-and-paste liberally when building roles.

So, why create a Head role instead of just using Principal? In my original implementation of census tags, every person that appeared in a census had a Principal role. In my new system, the Head role has the following sentence: “[P] appears as head of household in the 1880 Federal Census <on [D]> <at [L]>.” By leaving the Principal role intact, I do not have to go back through all my old census tags and adjust everyone’s role to fit the new system. The old sentences remain unchanged. When entering new families however, I can select their appropriate roles. The system requires a lot of upfront work creating roles and sentences, but I think the result is much cleaner. Anyway, that’s how I’m entering census data now. I hope this write-up helps someone! As always, feel free to e-mail me with questions and/or ridicule.