Sunday, December 15, 2013

Using a census for family history research

Censuses were not created for family history research but can be an invaluable resource. Find out what censuses exist for the area where your family lived, then learn what information was collected, what instructions the census-takers were given, how dates and ages were recorded, etc.
  • Always record information about a woman using her maiden name, but search a census using the name the woman would have been known by at the time of the census.
  • A family's name may have been misspelled.  Expect variations from census to census, particularly if the name was complicated and "foreign".
  • The census-taker's penmanship may make it difficult to decipher (and index) the name. Keep searching if you can't find someone that should be found. If you can't find the person by last name, search by first name, location and birth year, search for someone else that should be in the household, or by some other combination of criteria.
  • The search results you get when you use,, or any other web site are an index designed to point you to the actual census record.  Don't stop with the index! Look at the image, and learn what every field means. has a variety of census records for the US, Canada, England, Wales, Scotland, Mexico, Argentina, Germany, Ivory Coast, Spain, Switzerland, and more.  Click on [Search]. then [Browse All Record Collections] and narrow your search to "Census and Lists."  See the FamilySearch wiki for more information about using census records, or stop by the Family History Center.

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