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US Census information in general provides basic data points useful for tracing an ancestor, but the 1850 census is particularly beloved in genealogy land. Before 1850, the head of the household was the only name recorded in the census. The other household members were counted and reported as total numbers of males and females in different categories, such as Free White Persons, Slaves, and Free Colored Persons [Figure 1].

In 1850, the veil is pulled back to reveal more names, including wives, children, laborers, and boarders. Slaves, however, were moved to separate Slave Schedules and, sadly, remained nameless [Figure 2].

Using the 1840 and 1850 censuses as my primary sources, I traced my 3rd great-grandfather Thomas John Baber. Many researchers, myself included, had mistaken him for another person with a similar name—Thomas G Baber, but the census will prove their separateness and help reveal their relationship to each other.

Thomas John in the 1840 census

We find Thomas Baber in the 1840 census in Scott, Montgomery County, Indiana with the number of people in his household tallied as follows:


Figure 1 Thomas Baber in the 1840 US Census

Trying to identify the household members if they aren’t listed in the census is a chore on its own. If you succeed at that, it takes even more effort to see if the household members you’ve found line up with the categories tallied in the census.

Thomas John in the 1850 US census

See the difference in information available for Thomas John just ten years later in the 1850 census:

Thomas Baber in 1850 census

Figure 2 Thomas Baber in the 1850 US Census

Connecting Thomas John in the 1840 and the 1850 censuses

With the information about Thomas John from the 1850 census, I could analyze the 1840 census to see if the two censuses make sense together. Note that between 1840 and 1850 the Baber household had a net loss of one daughter, Emily, due to marriage and net gain of one son, William, born in 1843.

For the analysis, I created a table in which the first two columns contain the tallies from the 1840 census. In the third column, I recorded each person who would have been living in the Baber household in 1840, placing each one in the appropriate category. I was relieved to find that I had accounted for everyone and had the right number of people in each category.

1840 US Census

Household members in each category

Name Thomas Baber
Home in 1840 (City, County, State) Scott, Montgomery, Indiana
Free White Persons – Males – Under 5 1 John T
Free White Persons – Males – 5 thru 9 1 Burgess
Free White Persons – Males – 30 thru 39 1 Thomas John (father)
Free White Persons – Females – Under 5 1 Susan Elizabeth
Free White Persons – Females –5 thru 9 1 Sophia Ann
Free White Persons – Females –10 thru 14 1 Emily
Free White Persons – Females –20 thru 29 1 Elizabeth (mother)
Persons Employed in Agriculture 1
No. White Persons over 20 Who Cannot Read and Write 1
Free White Persons Under 20 5
Free White Persons 20 thru 49 2
Total Free White Persons 7
Total All Persons – Free White, Free Colored, Slaves 7

Feeling sure about my Thomas

When I found my Thomas John in the 1850 census, I felt confident I had the right guy for several reasons.

  • Thomas John was born in Kentucky in 1810 (1806 according to his grave marker).
  • He lived in Montgomery County, Indiana in 1850, a plausible migration route for a man who died in Polk County, Iowa six years later. (Thomas G lived in western Missouri in 1850.)
  • He lived with his wife Elizabeth (Rogers) whom he had married in Clark County, Kentucky in 1828.
  • The five children living with Thomas John and Elizabeth included Susan Elizabeth Baber—my 2nd great-grandmother!!

What about Thomas G Baber, then?

Thomas G is more elusive than Thomas John, but he is in the 1850 census and other records.

  • Thomas G was born in Kentucky in 1819.
  • He lived in Platte County, Missouri in 1850.
  • In 1850 he lived with Isham Baber, his father, who had purchased property in Clinton County, Missouri as early as 1820. (Platte and Clinton counties share a small border in the northeast corner of Platte and SW corner of Clinton.)
  • His mother Elizabeth Gordon was not in the census, although an Elizabeth in the correct age range is in the 1860 census with Isham
  • A 7-year old girl named Margaretta (Marietta?) was listed in the household. I later verified that she was Thomas G’s daughter. Further, his wife was not listed because his marriage to Faith Ann Martin ended in divorce when she abandoned the family around 1848.

Making connections

Clearly, I had followed the wrong census when I added Thomas John to my tree as the son of Isham. But if not Isham, who was Thomas John’s father?

The sum of my research from the census and other sources revealed that even though Thomas John and Thomas G were different people, they were related. They were 1st cousins once removed! They both descended from Thomas W Baber (1720-1778) and Elizabeth Lawson (1719-1778) as thus:

Thomas John Baber Ancestry Match blog minimal with dates

Filling in their backgrounds, Thomas W Baber and Elizabeth Lawson were born in Old Rappahannock/Richmond County, Virginia and moved to Fluvanna County, Virginia sometime after 1740. Four of their sons—Thomas, Stanley, Obadiah, and John moved around 1786 to a part of Virginia that later became the state of Kentucky.

  • My 4th great-grandfather, the father of Thomas John, was Stanley Baber!
  • Obadiah had a son Isham who was the father of Thomas G Baber.
  • Stanley and Obadiah both died in Kentucky.

Details, details

I have saved many records in my family tree for anyone with interest in all the details, but my focus here was primarily about using the census to make the most of your valuable research time. It’s also fine to take advantage of research others are willing to share, but it pays to verify source information before you charge off adding people to your tree who may or may not belong there.


My mother had a favorite saying about politicians. You’ve probably heard it before: One guy lies and another swears to it. It can work that way in genealogy, but not usually with malicious intent. Doing genealogy is a process of learning that continues as long as you continue to work at it. Correcting my old mistakes is now part of my process.

I also want to mention the wonderful Baber Family Tree website for its detailed descendant lists of so many Babers and for the additional documents and details they provide.

What’s next?

Now, as if it wasn’t bad enough to have had been so wrong about Thomas John, I could hardly believe it when I realized I had also gotten his wife, Elizabeth Rogers, my 3rd great-grandmother, quite wrong as well. If you take another peek at the 1850 census for Thomas, you will find a son named Burgess. He will be helpful when I talk about Elizabeth in my next post.