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19 April 2013

Census: Online searches

Research Every Census

With the ease of a few keystrokes, most family historians will begin research in the U.S. population schedule censuses. Suggestions for online research:
  • If the site offers general and exact matches, always try both methods.
  • Begin a general search with minimal information, such as surname, given name and location.
  • Narrow the research by editing advanced search with personal information such as dates or family names.
  • Print or download the index page and the digitized census. The index page provides the source citation. If the desired family is at the top of the census page, print the previous page. If the desired family is at the bottom of the census page, print the following page.
  • Look at the neighbors and a few pages preceding and following. Abstract the census data for families with the same surname. 
Genealogy software programs, such as Roots Magic and Legacy, offer census events and citation source wizards. The family historian may choose to construct a document in a spreadsheet or a table format. Include a source citation for every entry. Elizabeth Shown Mills in her book, Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace, offers a chapter of guidelines and examples on citing census records.
The citation identifies the source; the abstraction provides information on the family unit. A blank census form will aid in identifying the enumeration questions. If making a spreadsheet or table, the family historian may want to add the questions as headers.
Abstract every person in the household. 
Roots Magic 1940 census abstraction for William Kampe, Frankfort, Will, Illinois
Follow the family backwards – every census offers unique tips:
  • About residence and migration patterns
  • About occupation
  • About household members, the census may include parents or siblings
  • 1940 – Residence in 1935 and employment status
  • 1930 – Age first marriage, value of home, language spoken in home
  • 1920 – Able to read or write, able to speak English
  • 1910 – Survivor of Union or Confederate Army or Navy
  • 1900 – Month and year of birth, year of immigration, number of years in U.S. and naturalization
  • 1890 – Only a few counties are available, see FamilySearch.org wiki
  • 1880 – Relationship to the head of household, parents’ birth location
  • 1870 – Parents’ foreign born, education, male citizenship
  • 1860 – Value of personal property, separate slave schedule
  • 1850 – First census with data for everyone in household, separate slave schedule
On the Ancestry website, the researcher has at least five census search options:
  • Search all records either exact or not exact
  • Census and voters list
  • Narrow the record search to a specific census
  • Card catalog with “U.S. census” as keywords
  • Browse the census by location
The researcher should search by each of the above methods. Due to indexing and tagging parameters on Ancestry, each method will produce different results.

If no matches, remember:
  • The search is by index, not actual record. The researcher may browse the census pages by location
  • The spellings of names change from census to census
  • The location names change as county boundaries change or street names and numbers change
  • People move
  • People die
Do NOT:
  • Exclusively use one website, search Ancestry.comFamilySearch.org, Heritage Quest, U.S.genweb.orgcyndislist.com
  • Assume anything, always verify census with other original records and family information
  • Get discouraged, go slow and take your time
  • Give up, keep going
  • Exclusively research one type of record such as census, vital, or newspapers
For questions about U.S. census research, contact Selma Blackmon.

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