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Censuses were taken to:
- Determine the demographics of the population, such as sex, age, religion, and education.
- Determine the number and identities of eligible voters.
- Determine potential tax base.
- Count potential military conscripts.
The enumeration can document an entire population or only specific classes of persons such as males, property owners, or Jews. However, there are few censuses that were taken specifically of Jews.
A census is a count and description of the population of a country, territory, province, state, county, city, or congregation. Census records usually list a large segment of the population and include names; relationships; ages; birthplaces; marital status; and occupations. Other information may be listed such as religion, ethnicity, and native language.
When using census records, consider the following:
- In countries that have primary sources, such as church records and civil registration or vital records, census records should be used to supplement information in these records
- In countries where civil registration or vital records begin late and other records are lacking, census returns may be the only source of information available for specific time periods.
Other records were made that are similar in intent to census records, such as population registrations, communion lists, tax lists, and voter registration lists (see Jewish Records in Other Denominations and Jewish Population). The information in some of these records may come from official census records. Revision lists from the Russian Empire are sometimes referred to as census records; see Jewish Taxation.
Types of Censuses
National. Most nations periodically take a census of their population. For example, the United States has taken a national census every decade since 1790. The Russian Empire, on the other hand, has only one national census (1897).
Censuses of Jews. In contrast, Germany took a census of Jews in 1939. Microfilm copies of these census records are found at the Family History Library on 292 reels, 130 of which are for the city of Berlin. A register showing what films cover which parts of the German empire is:
- Edlund, Thomas Kent. The German Minority Census of 1939, An Introduction and Register. Teaneck, NJ: Avotaynu, Inc., 1996. (FHL book 943 X22e.)
In addition to censuses of the general population, Hungary also took a special national census of Jews in 1848:
- Conscriptio Judaeorum, 1848 (Census of Jews, 1848). Budapest: Magyar Országos levéltárban történt, 1970. (FHL film 0719823–0719828, 0754368 item 2.) This census gives the name, age, and specific birthplace of all members of the household. The birthplace is particularly useful in tracing families that have moved from another area or country.
Provincial. Some censuses, both general and Jewish specific, were carried out by province or other region. The following is an example:
- Dénombrements nomitatifs des Juifs en Alsace, 1784 (Enumeration by Name of the Jews in Alsace, 1784). Colmar: Jean-Henri Decker, 1785. (FHL film 1069535 item 3.) Includes names all the Jews of Alsace-Loraine (Elsaß-Lothringen [German] or Bas-Rhin [French]) in the year 1784 and 1785 by town. Has an index to towns with the number of Jews in each town in the region.
Local. In some cases a census was taken on a local level. An example is the census of the inhabitants of the city of Debreczen, Hungary, taken in 1870. It includes a separate Jewish conscription list:
- Népszámlálás 1868–1870 (Censuses, 1868–1870). Budapest: Magyar Országos Levéltárban történt, 1970. (FHL films 0722259–0722302.) This census is arranged by house numbers and includes surrounding communities. A conscription list of Jewish males is on films 0722262–0722263.
Another example is an 1814 census of Jews for many individual towns in Denmark. These are listed in the FamilySearch Catalog under each town. The Jewish census of the town of Skælskør, Sorø, Denmark on FHL film 0041007 is representative.
In the United States, search the census for all years the Jewish ancestor was in the country. Search both national and state censuses. It is important to search for variant spellings of the given name and surname. Check the following books for alternate spellings:
- Beider, Alexander. A dictionary of Jewish surnames from the Russian Empire. Bergenfield, New Jersey: Avotaynu, 2008. (FHL call no. 947 D46)
- Beider, Alexander. A dictionary of Jewish surnames from the Kingdom of Poland. Teaneck, New Jersey: Avotaynu, 1996. (FHL call no. 943.8 D46)
- Beider, Alexander. A dictionary of Jewish surnames from Galicia. Bergenfield, New Jersey: Avotaynu, 2004. (FHL call no. 943.86 D46)
If the ancestor cannot be found in the index, check the City Directory. If they are in the directory, locate someone with an address near the ancestor. Then find that person in the census. The ancestor should be located on the same page or within a few pages from this neighbor.
Some census records are indexed. Indexes may be arranged by names of individuals or by localities, such as streets. When indexes are available, it is best to use them before searching the actual census records. However, the information in an index may be incomplete or transcribed incorrectly. If you have reason to believe your ancestor should be in the census, search the census regardless of the information in the index.
Some major examples of census indexes include:
Name indexes by state to the heads of household for all the 1790–1850 (and often later) census returns of the United States.
Soundex indexes listing every person in the 1900 and 1920 United States census returns for each state and for some states in 1910. Also a soundex for the 1880 census of every state; it includes only those households where children ten years and younger are present.
Street-finding aids for many cities in the United States that identify census wards for these streets.
Names indexes to many of the 1851 and some of the 1861–1891 censuses of the England, Scotland and Wales.
An every-name CD-ROM index to the 1851 census for the counties of Devon, Warwick, and Norfolk, England and an every-name CD-ROM index to the 1881 census of England, Wales, Scotland, Channel Islands, and Isle of Man.
Street indexes for many cities in England, Scotland, and Wales (1841–1891 censuses), and in Ireland (1901 and 1911 censuses).
In addition to these general indexes, some indexes have been made that extract only Jewish names in census records. Examples are:
Freedman, Murray. List of the Jewish Residents, 1891 census, Leeds. Leeds, England: M. Freedman,1994. (FHL book 942.74/L1 X22f 1891.). This census does not identify the religion of the population. The index includes people with Jewish-sounding names.
Eker, Glen. Eker has published several volumes of indexes containing information for Jews (when identified in the census) from the 1851–1901 returns of all provinces in Canada. He has also produced a similar index to the 1921, 1935, and 1945 censuses of Newfoundland. See the Author Search of the FamilySearch Catalog for details.
Various web sites on the Internet also contain census indexes and abstracts. As examples:
Volunteers are creating research databases for various U.S. census returns. To access these indexes or participate in the project, go to:
An index to people with Jewish-sounding names enumerated in the 1851 and 1891 censuses of South Wales is available at:
Searching Census Records
When searching census records, remember that:
- Ages may be inaccurate.
- The name on the census may not be the same as the name recorded in vital records, Jewish records, or other sources.
- Place-names may be misspelled.
- Names may be spelled as they sound.
- Individuals missing from a family may be listed elsewhere in the census.
- The information provided may have been deliberately or inadvertently falsified.
Census Records at the Family History Library
The Family History Library has an extensive collection of census records and indexes from around the world. In addition to the ones previously mentioned, its holdings include all available federal (United States) census returns prior to 1920 and many censuses taken by individual states, pre-1911 censuses of Canada, pre-1901 censuses of Great Britain, and census returns for several countries in Latin America and Europe. Check for these records in the FamilySearch Catalog using the Locality Search and Keyword Search.
Canadian Jewish Census. There are books, films, and fiche that list the Jewish people in the Canadian Census for the years 1851-1901. Check the FamilySearch Catalog.
Also search the Wiki for "Census" and the country or state where your ancestor lived.