Resources for Census Research

Finding Census RecordsLast night’s workshop topic was finding and analyzing United States census records. We learned a little bit about the history of the census (Did you know that the decennial census is mandated by the Constitution?), talked about search strategies, and then went to work examining entries for two fascinating Chicago families looking for clues about births, marriages, deaths, immigration, and family relationships.

If you missed it, no problem! We’ll offer the workshop again. In the meantime, here are a few quick notes  that might be of use to you in your research:

  1. Census records are valuable research tools and many are online.
  2. If you have a tree on Ancestry and/or FamilySearch, you can begin your census search with one click of your mouse. No need to type anything into a form.
  3. If you have trouble finding a family in a census try a new search approach. Check alternate websites. Use wildcards. Vary the search information. Try different combinations of search fields. Look for known neighbors. Browse a likely enumeration district.
  4. Look at more than names, ages, and occupations. Depending on the year, census records might  include information about military service, immigration, naturalization, property value, education, illness, and even whether or not the family owned a radio.
  5. Check instructions given to enumerators in order to clarify what an entry might mean.
  6. Look for unwritten clues. For example, taken in combination, the census year and ages and birthplaces of children might suggest when a family arrived in the United States or when and where a couple married.

By far, though, the most important takeaway was this: following an individual or family through available census years and comparing the information that was recorded can provide useful insights into the lives of your ancestors.

In preparing for the workshop, we came across a number of helpful online resources for census research. Here are three worth bookmarking:

Chart comparing census information, 1790-1940 (Ancestry Wiki)

Census Instructions, 1790-2010 (United States Census Bureal)

Census Transcription Forms with Easy-to-read Headings (FamilySearch)