Census Records – a Genealogical Gold Mine (Part 2)


This is the second and final installment of a series about census records.

Census Clues, Tips and Helps (con't.)

Check Cyndi's List at cyndislist.com and click on the U.S. Census link for more than 1,500 web resources.

Federal Population Census Schedules are the most familiar records for genealogists. Special State Census' are available for some but not all states. Other seldom mentioned censuses are Agricultural, Industrial, and Indian Schedules as well as Slave Enumeration Schedules.

The name of your relative or ancestor, and the state they resided in is enough to get you started searching census records.

Begin with the most current census available and work backwards. (Due to the 72-year privacy restriction, the 1930 census is the most current year available.)

From1790-1840, only the head of household is listed. The remaining household members are tallied in selected age groups.

From 1850 to 1930, details such as names, ages, state or country of birth, occupations, marital status, etc. are shown for all household members.

For specifics on the information collected in each census year, census access, microfilm rental and sales, etc. see http://www.census.gov/prod/2000pubs/cff-2.pdf.

Most of the 1890 census was destroyed in a Department of Commerce fire; partial records are available for some states. This was a severe loss as no other records for that period list the name of every person in every household along with age, marital status, etc.

While not perfect, city directories for the same period (1890) can be of help. For additional information, go to the cyndislist.com and from the U.S. Census link mentioned above, scroll down to and click on "U.S.1890 Federal Census."

For those whose ancestors seem to have disappeared into thin air during the early years of the 20th century, perhaps they trekked north to Alaska in search of fame and fortune. If so, they could appear on the Alaska (Territorial) Census Schedules.

If you've already checked census records, try rechecking nearby households for additional relatives. Another thought: Have you checked the special state censuses mentioned above for the appropriate time-period and area?

As wonderful as census records are, they are not perfect. Be aware of the following:

* Some schedules are missing.
* Some schedules are illegible.
* Some families may be incomplete.
* The wife listed may not be the mother of some or all of the children.
* Ages and birthplaces are often wrong.
* Names can be misspelled.
* Because of time difference between the enumeration and the actual date, some families were missed and some may have been recorded in more than one place.

I have experienced almost all of the above problems. For example, my father and a brother were missed on the 1930 census in spite of the fact they and the rest of the family were living on the same ranch/property. Another: In the 1880 census, my grandparents surnames were misread and indexed under "T" instead of "F." And yet another: In the 1870 census my Dunagans of Sullivan County, Ind., moved during the enumeration date and are listed in two different townships.

Census information is only as accurate as the person providing the information. Perhaps the parents were working in the fields when the enumerator came by. A child supplying the information would be hard-pressed to know his parents birth years, places, etc.

And let's face it, some people lied - they didn't trust the government ‘snoop' or they felt their answers would be held against them in regards to immigration and/or taxation.

Again others really didn't know what year they were born, their birthplace, or what year their parents brought them to America.

Perhaps they disliked their name and used a substitute name or a nickname. It's also possible they didn't know their real given names.

In spite of these ‘imperfections,' census records are one of the most accessible of all records and reveal so many details about our ancestors.

Prologue - a census information resource. . .

Prologue magazine brings readers stories based on the holdings and programs of the National Archives, the regional archives, and the Presidential libraries across the U.S. It has been published quarterly by the National Archives and Records Administration for more than 40 years.

Subscription rates are reasonable but many articles from issues back to 1973 are accessible for free at www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/ on the "Previous Issues" link.

For example, I found "Preserved in Full, for Future Generations" by John W. Carlin (Spring 2001, Vol. 33, No. 1) of particular interest concerning the future of the U.S. census.

Additional articles concerning the U.S. census as well as other topics can be found on the "Genealogy Notes" link.

Dear Readers,
Due to family matters I am taking some time off. "Relatively Speaking" will return in  autumn 2009. In the meanwhile have a great summer and happy ancestor hunting! -- CM

Carllene Marek has been chasing ancestors for more than 25 years and chasing her muse for many more. A second-generation Californian, she has helped with several computer user groups, family associations and genealogical and historical societies. She has also compiled numerous indexes for assorted publications and written book reviews for various historical and genealogical publications. Carllene currently writes a monthly newspaper column, “AncestreeSeekers,” for the Chico Enterprise Record and the Oroville Mercury Register. She and her husband live in the Sierra Nevada foothills of northern California with a blended family of eight children, 12 grandchildren, nine great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild.

, a second-generation Californian, has been chasing ancestors for more than 25 years and chasing her muse for many more. She helps with several computer user groups, family associations, and genealogical and historical societies. She compiles indexes for assorted publications and writes book reviews for various historical and genealogical publications. She and her husband live in the Sierra Nevada foothills.
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1 Response

  1. pmarshall says:

    Carllene, I see that looking for ones ancestors is a big job, very time consuming.; also, it is very interesting.I probably have the time, but not wanting to work that hard. My ancestors on one side of the family are really lost somewhere (MID, 1800'S, OR SO). My husband has talked about going to Salt Lake City, but now his eyesight is very bad; he wouldn't be able to read. Anyway, thanks for your info.

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