United States Census Searching

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If at first you don't find who you want in a census, do not give up! Your ancestor is almost surely listed, however hard he may be to find.

Start the search over and over again after making changes like the following:

  • Change the index. There is often more than one index for a census.
  • Change the spelling, or the name. See Guessing a Name Variation.
If a garbled spelling or name makes it hard to identify a person, look at the names of the people in the same household, or neighbors. If they match with relatives, neighbors, or associates in other records, you probably have the right person.
  • Search using fewer fields in computerized indexes. Put as little information as possible in the search. Repeat the search several times and slowly add one new piece of information in each new search if needed to narrow the search.
  • Search by surname only, especially if you can narrow the search to a state or county.
  • Search by given name only, especially if you can narrow the search to a state or county.
  • Search using "wild cards" and Soundex searches.
  • Search by unusual occupation, especially if you can narrow the search to a state or county.
  • Search without the index.
  • If you know a rural county, search the census going line-by-line without using the index.
  • If you know the city street where they lived (found in city directories), search the census for that street, then search line-by-line on that street without using the index.
  • Change the place.
  • Search for the ancestor in a different state or county with the indexes.
  • Search surrounding rural counties going line-by-line without the indexes.
  • Change who you search for.
  • Search for elderly people in the household or near to each of their children or grandchildren.
  • Search for other relatives, kin, neighbors, or associates who may be living near the person you seek.
  • If you still cannot find someone on a census Y, first find that person on a previous X (or subsequent Z) census. Second, note several people who are living with or near your ancestor on the X or Z census. Third, return to the original census Y and find those several neighbors in order to see if your ancestor is nearby in census Y.
  • Search for your ancestor, his brothers and sisters, and parents in each available census during each of their lifetimes. Find them all and list the census information for each census on each of their family group record forms. Be thorough!

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