C is for Census

Continuing the Family History through the Alphabet series…C is for Census! Federal Census Records are one of the first tools that U.S. researchers turn to when beginning their family history research. It was my first stop when I began my research 23 years ago – back then, the most recent available census at the time was the 1910! I think the census records are even more valuable today.

While census records don’t give you exact dates or vital statistics about your family members, they do provide vital CLUES to assist in further research. The census teaches us:

  • family relationships – including occasional maiden names if in-laws are living with the family
  • approximate ages
  • addresses
  • occupations
  • for immigrants, the approximate immigration year and if naturalized or not

How accurate is the information? Well, in my family that all depends on several factors, including who provided the info, how well the informant understood English, and how close to the “event” they were at the time (for example, the immigration year is more likely to be correct five years later than 25 years later).

I’ve found a lot of family members in quite a few federal censuses, so I’ve created some rules – of course, they may only apply to my family, who tend to shy away from being “found” by future generations. But perhaps I’m not alone, so I present Donna’s Census Rules:

1. Women get younger every decade. Or so it seems…

2. Rule #1 is applied more vigorously in instances where the wife is older than the husband. Although the wife was older in one set of my grandparents, two sets of greats, and my 2nd great-grandparents, she is always either the same age as the husband or younger so as to prevent the raised eyebrows of the neighbors.

3. Just because adult children are listed with their parents doesn’t actually mean they live there, it just means the parents misunderstood the question. Keep looking, because you’ll probably find them listed elsewhere on their own. My family has inflated the official population number for decades with this rule!

4. The spelling of immigrant surnames are irrelevant for the first 25-30 or so years after immigration, then enumerators finally get it right. Overall, the 1940 census has been the most accurate with both names and ages for all of my ancestors.

5. Don’t be surprised to find extra, unknown siblings listed. Or existing, known siblings not listed. I may never know why. Or why not.

So there you have it….researching census records can be a wild, fun ride. You never know what you’ll find, but one thing’s for sure – there’s always a “happy dance” involved when you find your ancestor! Maybe someday I’ll get to explore census records for other countries, too!

[Written for the weekly Family History through the Alphabet Challenge]

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4 thoughts on “C is for Census

  1. Census are an awesome resource to have. I have use the UK ones regularly, and have dabbled with the US ones, as one line of family went over there. I just wish we had the same access to Australian censuses, but no, sadly the Aussie Governement destroyed them :((

  2. I have found some of the same things – names spelled different ways, unknown children in the house, even my already deceased great grandfather 10 years after he died being counted. Sometimes the wife just gets younger each decade or only ages a year while the man ages more normally. That is tragic that the Australian government destroyed the censuses! Why would they do that?

  3. Pingback: Family History Through the Alphabet – C is for … | Genealogy & History News

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