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The U.S. census provides valuable information for finding your ancestry and is often the best starting point for beginning genealogy research. Begin by finding your family in the latest census that has been released - the 1940 census. The census will give information about the family including birthplace and family relationships. Continue to trace your family back through the each census.
Census Transcription Search
Search by name, county, state and/or town. Add the year to each query to limit record search to that year - example John Smith New York 1920.
Search for U.S. census transcriptions on websites across the internet including the U.S. GenWeb Projects. Not every census image has been transcribed and available for free, but many have.
Using U.S. Census Records for Genealogy
The US Federal Census has been taken every 10 years beginning in 1790. You can use the census to start your genealogy search by looking for your parents or grandparents or great-grandparents in the 1930 census and continue to follow your family back through each census. Keep tracing back every 10 years which will add additional generations to your family tree, and you can learn a lot of information about the family along the way. Continue this process as far back in the census as you can go and record all the information from each census year in your
genealogy software program
These details can become clues to find other records.
In addition to names and relationships, you will find the following genealogy information:
Beginning with the 1850 census, the relationships in the family are enumerated., generally husband, wife, sons and daughters. By knowing all the names in the family, it makes it easier to find the family in the next earlier census. Sometimes, you will find a mother-in-law living with the family and her name will give you the wife's maiden name.
A person's age can be used for tracking the person from one census to the next helping to differentiate other people who have the same name. You can also use the birth year from the census to help identify a person's tombstone.
However, the birthday on census is not always reliable. It may be that whoever answered the questions for the census-taker guessed at the birthday or it may be that the person fibbed about his age. Consider the birth date approximate at best.
The 1850 through the 1930 census lists each person's age, and the 1930 gives each person's month and year of birth.
Place of birth
The 1850 through the 1930 census lists each person's place of birth. If a person was born in the US, you can use the state to search for his name on earlier US census. If the person was not born in the US, you can look for his name on passenger lists and naturalization records.
Parents' Place of birth
The 1880 through the 1930 censuses give the place of birth for the parents of the person being enumerated. This will help determine the immigrant ancestor and also gives an idea when to look for passenger lists and naturalization.
If the parent was born in the US, the state will tell you where to search for the parent's earlier census records. The 1870 census lists if the person's parents were born in a country other than the U.S., while the 1880 through the 1930 census indicate the person's parents' birthplaces.
The 1900 census and 1910 census indicate how many children were born to each woman and also note how many of those children were still living. Look for death records for the deceased children which could hold additional information such as mother's maiden name.
Immigration and Naturalization
The 1900, 1910, 1920, and 1930 census indicate the person's year of immigration to the United States which should help identify immigrant ancestor and in locating a ship passenger arrival list and naturalization papers.
The census of 1840 notes the names and ages of Revolutionary War pensioners.
The 1910 census indicates whether the person was a survivor of the Union or Confederate Army or Navy.
The 1930 census indicates military service in war with "CW" for Civil War, "Sp" for Spanish-American War, "Phil" for Philippine Insurrection, "Box" for Boxer Rebellion, "Mex" for Mexican Expedition, and "WW" for World War I.
Beginning with the 1880 census, the person's address is given. The name of the street is written on the census sheet sideways to the left of the columns. The address number is in the column. You can search the address on Zillow.com to see if the house still exists, the year it was built, photos, and other historical info. By knowing the address, it is also possible to visit your ancestral house in person. In additional to the visual interest of seeing an ancestor's home, these clues could also lead to the county and state to search for deeds and property tax records.
Copy all information from all columns and the top of page also or input into your genealogy program.
Follow up the Federal Census with
records, usually taken on different years from the Federal Census
Understand that NOT all census data is accurate.
Watch for families split onto two pages of the census. Check the previous and next pages of the census for additional family members.
Search the Census by Year
Learn where you can find copies of the U.S. census and what genealogy information can be discovered by the different questions asked each census year.