“When doing genealogy research one of the best places to start is with a census. The census can reveal many things depending on the year you are looking for. A census can help you establish the Composition of the Family, Successive places of residence, Approximate Dates of Birth, State or Country of Birth, Approximate Marriage Dates , The Number of Children Born to a Mother and how many are already deceased, the year of Immigration and information concerning Naturalization. You can discover Names of Military Veterans, Birthplaces of Parents, Family Relationships, Whether a person can read or write, who the Neighbors are, if a person owns or rents their land, their Occupations and the value of Real and Personal Property.
Of course you need to remember that the census is just a clue and should never be used as primary documetation because you never know who actually gave the information. Just 10 years ago I was asked to give the information on my neighbor who I barely even knew. I could have said anything and it would have been written down as fact. I have always like the old addage that the most uneducated person in town was made the census taker and if your ancestors were couldn’t read or write the census taker could write down anything he wanted. So don’t assume that because it is spelled differently or the information doesn’t match what you already know it couldn’t be your ancestor.
With the world of internet it pretty easy to get a copy of a census The following websites offer either indexes, links or actual images of the Census from 1790 – 1930.
- Familysearch.org (free) https://familysearch.org/
- Ancestry.com (Subscription based) http://www.ancestry.com/
- Heritagequest (available in some Libraries, Schools, FHC)
- Stevemorse.org http://stevemorse.org/
- Genealogy.com (Subscription based) http://genealogy.com/index_r.html
- USGenweb. http://www.us-census.org/
When looking for your ancestor in a census don’t forget there are several different types of census besides the Population Census. Look for federal mortality schedules, slave schedules, Indian Schedules, Agriculture and manufacturers schedules, as well as the State and territorial population schedules. And of course there is the 1890 schedule of Union Veterans and Widows.
When working with a census there are a long list of do’s and don’ts that have been published by numerous people over the years. I have my own list that goes something like this:
a) Always begin with the most recent Census and work backwards
b) Always use census information to confirm things found elsewhere or as a guide to further research
c) Always search the originia census/microfilm
d) Never just rely on the work of a transcriber
e) Always consider the very real possibility of errors and variations in given names
f) Always keep a log of census searched and site your sources so you can find it again
h) Always record the information exactly as it appears don’t make it right according to you.
i) Always use the proper form to record the data. Various forms are available on line
j) Always Record everyone with the same surname in the same county or at least the same township if the name is Brown or Smith
k) Always Check for Boundary Changes in the area
l) Always Search 2- 3 pages on each side of your ancestors. (Neighbors are often related)
m) Never be fooled by names in reverse order
o) Never ever take all information as gospel truth
p) Never take ages on a census as always correct
q) Never use census information as proof of any fact or event
r) Never limit your search to direct ancestors. Search for siblings and extended family members
s) Never think census information contains all the answers.
Remember: When citing census records use both the stamped and handwritten page numbers and always compile and compare all the census data for each family before make any conclusions. Keep in mind that all census records are important even the earliest ones where only the head of the house listed. There is much to be gleaned even from the pre 1850 census. Always keep in mind that real and personal property listings can be a clue to other records. “