U.S. Census Record Secrets Revealed!

Debra Woods

Juliana Szucs, veteran writer and trainer for Ancestry.com started her genealogical career at a young age by helping her mom index census records from microfilm on a reader in the family basement – 25¢ for each family name recorded AND sourced.

How times have changed! Now with a click of a computer we get all these records attached to our family tree in seconds, work that took many long difficult hours now can be accomplished in minutes.

The problem is – it is too easy to just attach a source to a person without looking at it and discovering and connecting with all the hidden treasures found in these marvelous census records. You can find a whole treasure trove of valuable information from census records.

What Treasures are Hiding in Your Tree?

When you attach a source to an individual in your Ancestry tree, some basic dry facts are automatically included. But besides the basic facts, you can add other details that turn data into a meaningful story.

You can do this by adding notes to the source in your record.

Some Great Things to Look for

  • Follow the trail of where they lived from census to census.
  • Translate census ages to birth, marriage and other dates.
  • Start a Timeline with the census data such as marriage, immigration, world events that may lead to further records such as wars that may lead to draft records.

Beginning with the 1880 US census family structure was included, so you can keep track of the entire family ebb and flow from decade to decade
Look beyond just your ancestor to his/her neighborhood and community. Often they live amongst family and friends who immigrated from the same mother country. Learning about them can teach you about your own family. Besides, neighbors often intermarried!

Vital Clues in Census Records

A census record may give you clues that you need to do further research, and suggest the right place to look for that information. Be sure to visit State and County pages for additional information. Using the census location, seek death certificates or news articles about death for a child, spouse or relative who disappears from a subsequent census for that family in that location. Always ask –where can I learn more?

Specific Census Nuggets

In the 1900 and 1910 censuses, look for the number of children born compared to those living to find deceased children.

Szucs advised to read notes that may appear at the top, bottom or sides of a census page for clarifying information. One record for an ancestor appeared to indicate that she was incarcerated at age 97 in a penitentiary. Notes on the page clarified that she was in a home for the aged nearby.

The 1880 Census started including street addresses. Be sure to capture this information to paint a more detailed picture of their lives. You can even look them up on Google Maps street view to view the original home they lived in if it's still there.

The 1940 census includes the place of residency for an individual in 1935.

The 1900 through 1930 census records document the year of immigration, while the 1920 census gives the year a person was naturalized.

The 1840 Census states the names and ages of military pensioners or their widows.

The 1910 Census asked whether an individual was a survivor of the Union or Confederate Army or Navy, and the 1930 Census asked whether they were a veteran of any US military or naval forces mobilized for any war or expedition.

Don't Forget State Census Records

In the 1890 Census there were Veterans Schedules from all states alphabetically from Kentucky to Wyoming. Some addresses were included as well as interesting military details.

While Confederate soldiers were not supposed to be recorded, many were and later crossed out, but the images are there and you might be able to read and find your Confederate ancestors there.

In the pre-1850 census records when there was nothing more than a city, head of household and tick-marks for various age/gender groups, you can make a chart of your own to record this information Ancestry provides a blank form you can print and hand write info from various census records to compare and find enough information to identify your ancestors.

To find find some good websites that discuss census records, do a Google search on the term "census records". A good website to visit is a webpage titled Clues in Census Records: 185--1940. This website is a good place to start.



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