How do I search Census Records?
Census records are valuable primary resources for the genealogist. Federal census records in the USA have been taken every 10 years since 1790. Some states have state censuses and there have even been county censuses.
The information on each census can vary although all of it can be useful for a family historian collecting clues using search census techniques. Some of the early census records name only the head of the household in each locality and number of males and females in different age categories.
Later censuses include the name of every member of the household, the address, birth dates, location of parents’ birth, the number of years married, occupation, date of immigration and value of personal and real estates.
Do not assume a relationship between those living in the house. An individual may be a boarder or is a relative visiting.. Check marriage and other records to connect the various individuals in the household.
Tracing a family through the census provides a migration history and the locations in which research should be centered. To search census effectively, start with the present and work backwards when evaluating census records.
People are listed in census records in enumeration order, grouped by county, state, then from house to house, neighbor to neighbor.
When you search census records notice who the neighbors were, and determine if there were connections with your family. People tended to move in groups related by marriage, religion, blood ties, etc.
Unfortunately for those that search census records it is important to know that census are not always the most accurate. Record the information just as you find it and cite your source. Verify any census records against other documentation.
Be aware that county and state boundaries changed over time. If you can not find your ancestors in one area, check the next county over.
Census records can be accessed from several different sources (mostly subscription based).
The US Federal Census Records can be accessed online through one of the large fee based databases, Ancestry.com. If you search census records and find family records there, consider getting their free trial for 2 weeks before committing to ensure these records are what you are expecting.
Ancestry has the largest database of census records online, including records for other countries. Keep in mind you can often access these databases at your local library or genealogical society at no charge so I suggest starting there first.