A census record search can help you to pinpoint when and where someone was born
by noting the date of the census, the person’s age, and what is listed for
the birth state.
When you conduct an ancestry search
find them in more than one census, you might find that their age changed from one
census to the next, by more or less than ten years. This should give a clue as to
when they were born within a couple of months, but this can also indicate a discrepancy
or that you might be following the wrong family.
What Can you Find in Census Records?
Some facts that you can discover include:
place of residence
number of children
year of marriage
land ownership and worth
important family and friend relationships
Finding and using historical
census data, is a good starting point for building your ancestry, but they should
not be the only sources you use in your research.
When analyzing any document and the data found within, keep in mind that it may
reveal family heritage facts that may or may not be accurate and may contain family
genealogy data that contradicts known heritage.
How to Begin your Family Search with a Census
When you search an online database, start by filling in all the search criteria
fields - first and last name, approximate date of birth, where they were born, etc.
If you are not successful, try adding more people if the search allows for
that. Depending on the person’s age and status, try adding a wife and child,
or parents and siblings.
If that failed, try removing the last name, or use alternate spellings of
first and last name.
If you are conducting a census record search and you are looking at an index,
which does not contain a copy of the original, it might only contain the head of
household, so if you are looking for another adult, such as a sister, brother, father,
or mother, knowing how the index was put together is important to a successful search.
Genealogy Introduction to the Census at the National Archives
Why you Might not Find your Ancestors in a Census
When tracing your family history,
remember to look for your ancestors using different spellings. Many Census takers
often wrote the name the best they could, with the way it sounded, when recording
family ancestry data.
People, who have indexed online databases, have erroneously made mistakes in recording
names and information too. The mistakes can be either by transcribing the common
handwritten letter or by mistyping the record.
Search using abbreviations, variations, phonetic spellings, nicknames, initials,
or substitute letters that are commonly mistaken for other letters.
Check to see where the parents, siblings, other family members, or known close friends
are. Locating other family members can lend a clue to finding your ancestor.
Be sure to check surrounding counties, as boundaries have changed over the years.
If you can’t find your ancestor, think of various reasons why you couldn't
find your ancestor. Maybe they got married or temporarily moved for a job.
If none of the above worked, look for the person in a city directory for the year
that is closest to the census date. This will confirm if they were living where
you thought they were. If you discover them in the directory, look up the names
from the directory that surrounds your relative. When you find them, you should
be able to locate your ancestor. Most likely there is a spelling error in the document
or it was wrongly transcribed.
Use Soundex for Name Variations
Finding a person can be an issue due to the way the name was spelled either on
purpose or by accident. Because the US census takers often did not confirm the spellings
of names, the soundex calculator was created to index names in the 1880, 1900, 1910
and 1920 US Census. The soundex calculator can also aid genealogists by identifying
spelling variations for a given surname. Click on the link be taken to the soundex calculator.
Case Study and Tips from using Census Records
By looking through 54 census records that were from 1850 to 1870 of a family nucleus
of grandparents, parents, children and relatives, we discovered that 15 children
were found living with multiple parents or guardians, due to: divorce, parental
death, or were farmed out to live with relatives for various reasons. We had to
use various sources to confirm this information. If we just used census records,
we would not have accurate family genealogy
data. Even after 1870, be cautious as to how you list children. Just because it
lists son or daughter, it does not mean that the husband and wife are both the biological