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Discover your Family History Through Historical Census Data

Did you know that the single most sought after document by genealogists, is the census? It is because it is the easiest document to find on the internet and it has proven to help countless researchers begin their family research.

What Questions were Asked?

The first United States Population Census was conducted in 1790. Federal Marshals had the job of visiting every house and recording their findings. The first census only contained six questions: name of the head of house, number of persons in the household, number of free white males over the age of sixteen, numbers of free white males under the age of sixteen, and the genders and colors of everyone in the household. Since then every decade had produced another census with more historical census data. Each census has improved with more information making it easier to trace your heritage.

By 1820, the census finally took into account women and “free colored persons” to show how our economy was expanding.

Before 1850, people were not listed by name.

By 1850, the USA census record contained “social statistics;” which gives us insight to schooling that people had obtained, crime in that time period, and taxes.

The 1890 USA census records are almost completely destroyed and others have been lost. The best place to find what is available for each county is through FamilySearch.org.

The 1890 Census of Veterans Special Schedules of the Eleventh Census (1890) Enumerating Union Veterans and their Widows. Not all states are available and some counties are missing. Generally they are available for: Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming, and Washington DC.

The 1900 census asks if foreign born, year of immigration and whether they have the ability to speak English or not. It also has historical census data that contained the street address and house number of most people that were enumerated.

In 1920 the year of naturalization was polled for historical census data.

The 1940 census was made available to the to the public on April 1, 2012.

Learn about the 1940 Census


Historical Census Data can be found in Various Census Records?

The most common Census records used in the United States are the Population Schedules. However, there are Special Census Schedules that included: slave schedules, state census records, agricultural schedules, mortality schedules, manufactures, social statistics, defective classes, and others are available which should be used to help with your family research.

Why use Mortality Census Records?

Mortality schedules were recorded 1860, 1870, and 1880. Census takers were directed to secure additional information for persons dying with the 12 months preceding the census taking. For each person, the following information is listed: name, age, sex, marital status if married or widowed, state or country of birth, month of death, occupation, cause of death, and the length of the final illness.

These schedules may be the only record of death for some individuals, as many states did not require recording of deaths until the late nineteenth century. In addition, gravestones or cemetery records may be nonexistent.

Why use the 1890 Census of Veterans Schedule?

If you are trying to research an ancestor in 1890, you know that the United States Population Census was destroyed, well this is a good substitute to discover census data.

The 1890 Census of Veterans Special Schedules enumerated Union Veterans and their Widows. Not all states are available and some counties are missing. Generally they are available for: Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming, and Washington DC. These films can be found at the National Archives and FamilySearch.

Use Good Genealogy Habits to Avoid Common Mistakes with Census Research

  1. When tracing your ancestors, remember there could be several families with the same name, living in the same area.
  2. Verify the information belongs to your ancestor before you record the source and its details.
  3. Use several documents and compare the details to help verify the information you have is correct.
  4. Consider all reasonable matches when performing genealogical research, but don’t assume the first “close” match is the right person or family.
  5. In earlier census when relationship were not written, don't assume the oldest male in a census record is necessarily the head of household or that everyone is a family member. The family could have raised children other than their own.
  6. Listing more children than expected in a household could also indicate a prior marriage.
  7. Missing family members, or a family structure vastly different from what you expected, could be a clue you found the wrong household.
  8. If you are looking at copies of records, don’t overlook the other people on the same page or the page before or after your ancestor. Many times, relatives lived in the same household, or within houses from each other.
  9. Analyze the data and make notes as to why you think the information is or is not for your ancestors.
  10. Keeping good records will help you stay focused and on track for future searches.