GenToday-L Archive

Some Do's and Dont's with Census Records

by Shirley Hornbeck

PUBLISHED WITH PERMISSION in the February 2000 edition of GenToday-L

Do not stop with Soundex finds -- do look at the original record.
DO copy the information at the top of the page in the header.
DO not assume census indexes are correct or complete.
DO not assume spellings are as you think.
DO not assume relationships are exactly as stated.
DO not assume a wife is the mother of all or any of the listed children.
DO not assume ages listed are correct.
DON'T forget to copy all of the entries for the surname in the county. And better look over the neighbors too! Four Smiths in a row with a Jones in between could mean Jones is married to a daughter.
DON'T think the records before 1850 can't help. They may only have one name listed, but at least you'll know how many to look for in a family.
DO believe that all census records are important -- even the earlier ones.
DO make use of the Veteran's column in the 1840 census.
DO use the 1890 Veterans ( and widows of Veterans) Schedules.
DO use the state census records.
DO not believe all census data to be true and correct.
DO study the enumerator's handwriting so you can make comparisons.
DO watch for families split onto two pages with the surname not repeated at the top of the next page.
DO try to find your ancestors in every census taken in their life time.
DO check family histories and other sources of neighbors who might have come from the same state to locate a town of residence if you can not determine that information on your ancestor.
DO remember that when searching an entire town for ancestor, the town enumeration may be split and not be kept together on the film --- cities are often listed separately from the town they are connected with.
DO take note of real estate and personal property values to determine if a deed or will search is appropriate.
DO use maps in conjunction with your census searching.
DO search across state, county, and town lines if your ancestors lived near a border.
DO go back and look again at census records to see what you might have missed -- especially if you have learned of new surnames (maiden names) or other family connections.
DO consider typographical errors when using indexes -- know the keyboard and what letters could have been punched in by mistake.
DON'T think census information gives all the answers.
DON'T forget the 1900 veterans census if your ancestor was in the military. Widows are also listed.
DON'T forget about state census records.
BE careful - "IA" on some census means Indiana and not Iowa.

Be sure to visit Shirley's web site - THIS & THAT GENEALOGY TIPS

Suggested Reading:

  • The 1920 Federal Population Census
  • Beginning Census Research
  • Using the 1990 U.S. Census for Research


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    Additional Articles:

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  • A Visit to the Cemetery
  • Sound Genealogical Research

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