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Collection Information

Because of the age of these censuses, their condition may not be as good as more recent enumerations, and it is more likely that fragments are missing. On the other hand, with the relative scarcity of other records for this time, this makes surviving censuses all the more valuable.

Many countries took periodic censuses to keep track of various aspects of the population. Where available, these records often include helpful details about your ancestors and their families.

While the questions in census records vary from place to place, and year to year, enumerations from the 1700s are generally leaner in content, but are nonetheless useful because they place your ancestor in a particular location at the time of the census. Knowing this you can branch out to nearby churches, cemeteries, and civil records that may include more detail.

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Search Tips

  • In cases where you are working with censuses that group individuals into categories by age, look at the family you are investigating, estimate birth years wherever you can and project the approximate age for each census year. Then create a template of what the family might look like in the census.
  • You may run across earlier censuses with the residents of a particular district alphabetised. Since our ancestors didn’t live in alphabetical order, this tells you that a copy was made from the originals. Be aware that copies introduce new opportunities for errors to creep in, especially when you’re looking at tallied handwritten columns.
  • When you locate possible matches for your ancestor, branch out to nearby churches, cemeteries, and civil records that may include more detail and use these more detailed records to prove whether you have indeed located your ancestor.
  • Be sure to locate your ancestor’s adult siblings in census records. It was common for extended family to live in the same household or near other family members.
  • Occasionally, census takers only recorded initials in place of the given name. Using only a first initial will bring up these records.
  • Census takers didn’t always have the best penmanship, so if you’re having a hard time locating your ancestor, write out the name and try replacing some of the letters with letters that look similar.
  • Once you find a matching census record, save it to your family tree – that way you can provide evidence to back up the info in your family tree, easily share your discovery with your family, and quickly find the historical record again later.