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US Census Records And Genealogy

By: Chris Nickson - Updated: 20 Aug 2012 | comments*Discuss
 
Genealogy Us Census Records Free Census

Census records are a wonderful means to discover information about your ancestors, one of the very best tools in genealogy. Not only can you see where they lived, but you can also obtain a snapshot of sorts about the way they lived, the size of their family, and other facts that can be invaluable in compiling a family history.

US census records date back to 1790, when the country covered 12 states, up to 1930 (the records for which were released in 2002). In the US census records you find the rapid expansion of a young country (young by European standards), and the move west.

Where To Find US Census Records And What They Show In Genealogy

The early US census records, up to 1840, are limited in what they reveal. The only name given is for the head of each family, with other household members grouped together by age and gender, but their names are not given. This means that when you perform a genealogy search in this period you need to locate other records, particularly probate records (which often name the spouse and children), church records, land and property records to establish a picture for your family history.

The unfortunate thing, although only to be expected these days, is that you need to pay to access many indexes and US census records, even the earliest ones. However, if you delve into some state records, you can find a limited amount of free census records.

There are often problem - the 1890 census was almost completely destroyed by a 1921 Washington fire. Only 6,160 names survived. Also in 1890 a special census of Civil War Union veterans and widows of veterans was taken. This is available on microfilm or can be searched online.

What The US Census Records Tell You In A Genealogy Search

The information on the census form varies widely, depending on the period. In the 1790 US census records, for example, you can find the head of household, the number of free white males ages 16 and older, the number of free white males under the age of 16, the number of free white females, the number of all other free persons and the number of slaves.

By the 1840 census, which covered 30 states and territories, the questions have expanded, and you can now find the name of the head of each household, the number of free white males and females categorized by age group, the number of free coloured males and females by age group, the number of male and female slaves by age group, the number of persons in each family engaged in various occupations, the names and ages of military pensioners, the number of both white and coloured deaf, mute and blind persons, the number of students, the number of scholars at public charge and the number of free white persons older than 20 who could not read and write. In genealogy, that's like striking gold!

In 1870, after the Civil War and the abolition of slavery, with a population of over 38 million, the US census records have grown much further to include the name of each person, age at last birthday, sex, colour, profession, occupation or trade, value of real estate, personal property, place of birth (state, territory or country), whether the father is of foreign birth, whether the mother is of foreign birth, the month of birth if born within the year, the month of marriage if married within the year, whether the person attended school within the year, whether the person can read and write, whether the person deaf, dumb, blind, insane or idiotic, whether he's a male citizen of the US aged 21 years and up, or whether he's a male citizen of the US aged 21 years whose right to vote was denied or abridged on other grounds than rebellion or other crime. Again, that's great fodder for any family history.

Note that the census indexes for Colorado and Maryland can be accessed for free, but not the US census records themselves.

By 1930, the amount of information asked of each household had grown again, giving a remarkably full picture of life, background, education. It covers each person's name, , sex, ethnicity, age, marital status, relationship to head of household, whether the home is owned or rented, its value or monthly rental, if the family owns a radio set, whether they live on a farm, the age at first marriage, school attendance, literacy, birthplace of person and parents, whether they're foreign born, the language spoken in home before coming to the U.S., year of immigration, whether naturalized and able to speak English, occupation, industry, and class of worker, whether at work previous day - and if not, the line number on unemployment schedule (these schedules no longer exist) - and finally veteran status.

From these records you can extrapolate a great deal about the way your ancestors lived, their origins, life, and it can lead you to other records that will fill out the genealogy picture even more.

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Remember that even in the last quarter of the 19th century, large parts of the country weren't part of the United States and therefore not subject to the same laws. That means getting information on people who lived in a number of areas of the west can be difficult, if not downright impossible. You might need to go backwards on census information - remember, some of the west could be very wild.
Jean - 30-May-12 @ 2:17 PM
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