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Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Federal and States Census : A Usual First Step in On-Line Family History Research

 Filling in the blanks on your family research is easier than you may think.  Try looking at the US  Census and the individual state census returns.

This can mark your first jumping off point to gain more information about your family history.
As set for by the founding legislators of our country, every 10 years a census shall be taken to count the number of people living in the USA.  In addition to the federal census, many states have commissioned their own individual census programs to enable their governments to find where their inhabitants live, what they own, and what their occupations are.

The US federal census began in 1790.  All census data is available on-line through the 1930 poll.  Various websites have this information, whether transcribed, and/or available images of each page.  This information can be very useful when researching your family history.  There is one word of caution.  The information on these census sheets are not certified to be true.  Names and their spellings, ages of persons, addresses, marital status, number of children, place of birth, home ownership, etc. mentioned on these sheets may or may not be true.  So, in short, you should consider all information that you gather from the census to be clues to the life stories of families.  Many times, a census-taker would visit a household and not speak the same language as the residents.  It may not be quite clear as to the names of the persons being questioned. When the names of the residents were not quite clear to the census-taker, they were instructed to name the man John, and the woman would be named Mary. You will find many phonetically spelled names in the census.  In addition, a friend or a neighbor may have answered questions about an individual living in their household.  The informant may not know the truth about their family member or friend, or may have just guessed to answer the questions of the census-taker.  Census-takers usually visited a home during the daylight hours, and the residents may not have been home to answer the questions about themselves.  Many times, older children were home to answer questions about their parents, but did not know the true answers.  They told only what they believed to be true.  Therefore, you will find many discrepancies and confusing information in the census that you are looking at.

Many States conducted their own census projects, much like the federal census.  Before the states joined the Union, they were just territories  Even some of the territories conducted census programs.   These can often give different information than what was gathered from the federal census just a few years from the date of the state census.  Once again, use the information as clues to the true family history.  The State census data may have special schedules that include information about births and deaths that were not required to report in that particular state at the time of the census.  It may also have information about agricultural details, if the family lived in an area of farms and cattle raising.

Dates of immigration can be researched through the records of Castle Garden, Ellis Island  and the Steve Morse websites with several ports of entry also in the South and West of the United States.
Castle Garden   Ellis Island   Steve Morse


Where do you find special state census information?  Currently, you can do a quick search on Cyndi's List to seek information to each state to discover what census each state has in its archives and where you might be able to view the data.  You may also try Ancestry for a quick search of this also.  As you might know, the Latter Day Saints have begun an indexing and imaging program on their website where they are beginning to post transcriptions and images of many of the wonderful records that they have collected from all parts of the world.  The Federal and State census is a part of this project.  Visit Family Search to find out what is currently on the internet, and be sure to check back periodically as it is constantly being updated.
Cyndi's List   Family Search

Remember that the information in every census are just clues.  Use this information to research vital information of your family.  Birth and death certificates were not always required by states until a particular year.  Marriage documents can more readily be found in county records and church records.  Be sure to look high and low for proper documentation  of your family's vital records.  The census can point you in the right direction most of the time.  But be prepared for surprises.  That is what makes this kind a project very interesting and keeps you on your toes.  You will have a greater understanding of your family once the pieces of information begin to fall into place.