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1.  
The U.S. Federal Census is an official count of the population living in the United States on a designated day. The census places an ancestor in a specific place at a specific time.
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The first U.S. Federal Census was taken in 1790 and is taken every ten years on an established day. Most of the 1890 Census was burned in a fire. Censuses are private for 72 years after each has been taken. The most recent one available is 1940.
3.  
Soundex (called the Miracode in 1910) is a system of coding names for the census based on sound rather than alphabetical spelling. A variation of the Soundex called American Soundex was used in the 1930s for a retrospective analysis of the U.S, censuses from 1890 through 1920. Using Soundex Codes to find census information has been supplanted by computerized indexing capabilities.
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To research your family, begin with the most recent census and work backward.
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Before 1790 you can use tax lists and other local lists that might have been compiled by the state in which you are researching.
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When you're looking through the census records, be sure to look at 10 to 20 families before and after the family you are researching. These folks are the friends and neighbors (and possibly family) of your ancestor.
7.  
If you find your ancestor as the last person on the census page, make sure you check the next page for more information.
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Realize that some of the information may not be totally correct in the census. It is only as good as the knowledge of the person reporting it. The census taker may have taken information from an older child or neighbor rather than from the head of the household.
9.  
In addition to the federal population count, there are a number of special censuses: Slave, Industry and Manufacturing, Agriculture, Mortality, Social Statistics, Union Veteran & Widow, Defective, Dependent, and Delinquent.
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Prepare a census timeline before you begin. Review what you will find in the census you are searching. Expect spelling and age variations.
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When copying census information, copy everything exactly as it was written. Be sure to document the census by noting the National Archives film roll numbers, and add other information that will lead a researcher back to that same census page.
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Don't assume that all children listed belong to the wife listed. There may be a second wife/husband and the children could be a combination of his and hers.
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When the head of the household is no longer listed, don't assume that he/she is dead. The person could be living with one of the children.
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All census information written is supposed to be as of the official census day. You may find this date at the top of each census page. A person may not have been living on the day the census was actually taken, but still may have been alive on the official census day. Children may have been born by the time the census taker reached the home, but if it was not before the official day, they will not be listed.
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For the census years 1850, 1860, 1870 and 1880, the government took a Mortality Schedule, listing people who had died in the year preceding the regular census.
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Many states took their own censuses. Check the state you research to see if such information is available.