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By James W. Petty, AGCM, CGSM

One of the principle goals in this research was to find living descendants of the Winchester family who might be able to fill in details about their cousins and living relatives.  Through the census data, and other sources, we learned that Stephen had a son Austin Winchester, who in turn named a son Stephen.  This Stephen had a daughter Helen Winchester, who married Ray Proffit of Logan, of Utah in 1934.  Ray and Helen had a son Ray Bruce Proffit.  The Proffit name rang a bell in my mind.  Fifteen years ago one of our neighbors in the Sandy Crescent Park 3rd Ward was a Brother named Mike Proffit.  He had left our area to take on a new job in Texas.  I located a phone number for him through the Internet, and called him to see if he might be familiar with this line of the Proffit family that we were following for Mrs. Jackson.  To my surprise and delight, Mike not only knew of this line of the Proffit family, he was one of four sons of Ray Bruce Proffit.  Not only that, he was also the family genealogist, and had gathered extensive information regarding all of the descendants of Stephen F. Winchester and Mercy Winchester Oakdale.  I gave him the information to contact May Jackson, and in turn notified her with the news that the researcher she had hired from halfway around the world just happened to have been a neighbor of the cousins she was looking for.  I spoke with Mike a couple of months ago and learned that he and May had spoken with each other about their genealogy and family history every month during the past year, until her recent passing.

As with the Winchester family research, census records play a key role in modern genealogical studies.  Census records are enumerations of the people in a community, often providing such information as names, relationships, ages, birthplaces, occupations, and much more.  These lists, in genealogy research, are like an outline is to a term paper.  It is the foundation and support upon which the complete record is based.  Historically, censuses have been taken throughout all time periods.  The Book of Numbers in the Old Testament (Chapters 1-3) accounts for the numbering of the Tribes of Israel, including names for each tribe or family.  In the New Testament we read of the decree of King Herod that “all the world was to be taxed”, wherein the people were gathered to the cities pertaining to their family or lineage, where they were numbered and taxed.  These were censuses.

In modern times, censuses are taken to determine taxes, government representation, to assess physical and population needs, and many other governmental purposes.  In the United States, censuses have been taken by the federal government, every ten years, since 1790.  Some states, conducted earlier censuses (North Carolina in 1787), and others (such as New York, Illinois, and Kansas, to name a few) gathered information for their own purposes in off census years (years ending in “5”, that wouldn’t be competing or confused with the federal censuses taken in years ending with a “0”).  Pennsylvania conducted “septennial censuses”, taken every seven years, for tax identification purposes.  In some states where early federal censuses were lost (as a result of the burning of Washington, D.C. by the British during the war of 1812), tax rolls are used as a substitute for the lost enumeration lists.

Other countries kept census records as well.  In Great Britain, national enumerations took place on the years ending with “1” (1841, 1851, and so forth).  Censuses were taken at some point or another in most countries, and many of these records are available on microfilm through the Family History Library.

Census records allow genealogists to track their ancestral families as they grew, and as they moved from one community to another.  During the early history of the Church, the membership in large part migrated as a block.  However, due to this transient situation the community of the Latter Day Saints first appears in Iowa in the 1840 federal census, where the Saints were temporarily located under the leadership of Brigham Young, prior to settling in Nauvoo.  The Church as a group appears next  in the 1845 State Census of Illinois, at which time the body of the Church was still residing in the area of Nauvoo, Illinois, just prior to moving west.  In the 1850 Federal Census, the Church and the majority of its people were established in Utah Territory.  Historians studying these three censuses are able to determine how families interacted; which families stayed with the Church and which ones may have dropped away, or remained behind when the Church as a whole moved away.