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 and allow you to pinpoint their location at a particular point in time.
While the questions in census records vary from place to place, and year to year, you can find information like names of other household members, ages, birthplaces, residence, occupation, religion, marital status, military service and more.
- Census records can be rich with details about your ancestor. Be sure to look at each and every question that was asked and use the answers to locate more records. For example, the U.S. federal censuses for the years 1900-1930 include a date of immigration for immigrants. Use that date to narrow your search for your ancestor’s passenger arrival record in our immigration records.
- Pinpoint your ancestor’s location from the census on a map, and then look for churches, cemeteries, and other places where your ancestor may have left records.
- You may run across earlier censuses with the residents of a particular district alphabetized. 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.
- In early censuses where only the head of household is listed and the rest of the family is tallied, it’s helpful to make a template of sorts using a blank form. Estimate the ages of the family you are seeking and tally them on your template. This makes it easier to match the family up with those you find in the census.
- 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. You may find a parent, grandparent, or other family members living either with them or nearby.
- If you’re having a difficult time locating your ancestor, try searching using only given names and other details like birth year, residence, family members, place of birth, etc.
- 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 or voter 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.