How do I find my family in the census?

The best way to find your family in the census by searching a census index. Many websites offering family history information, include census indexes as part of a general search. Those named in the particular census may vary, depending on the time and place. In the United States, for example, the U.S. Federal Census records, from 1790 to 1930 are available to the public. However, the census between 1790 and 1840 listed the heads of households only. Beginning in 1850 and continuing to the present day, every member of the household is enumerated. It is important to determine, for your area of interest, who was enumerated in what census year. To get an idea of what censuses have been published by what country for what period of time, see Cyndi's List, Census -Worldwide. In addition to censuses created by federal governments, there were often local and sometimes special censuses taken -- often between federal census years. It is important to become familiar with the types of records available in your locality of interest.

One of the major issues when searching census records are the variations and misinterpretations in the spelling of names. In earlier times, "correct" spelling was not as much of an issue as it is today; names were often spelled they sounded, and pronunciations may have varied from one region to another. Many -- but not all -- websites offer Soundex and wildcard search capability, which can help in overcoming spelling variations. Another census issue is indexer error. Those indexing census records may had difficulty reading the handwriting or distinguishing individual letters. Also at issue is the misinterpretation of names -- the name "Quinnie" for example, was found indexed as "Jimmie" and "Innie." For this reason, it is always good for the researcher, with his or her personal knowledge of the family, to view the actual census image.

Related Reading

Editor Note: Be sure to check online for census records of interest, as many new and updated records are being made available every day.

U. S. Federal Census

1890 U. S. Federal Census Special Censuses State Censuses Census Insights Other Countries
  • British Censuses: Advice for Americans
  • The 1901 British Census Online: Keeping Your Cost Down
  • Five-Star Censuses: Swedish Clerical Surveys
  • Making Sense of the Danish Census

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