The US Census is a very helpful tool for identifying ancestral family groups. One of the best ways to find resources to document our ancestor is by searching each family member, especially, spouse, children, parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins.
The US Census was taken every ten years between 1790 and 1930. The 1890 US Census was largely destroyed by fire in 1921. The 1940 US Census will be available on Monday, April 2, 2012. They are released every 72 years after they were taken.
One of the best techniques to employ would be to search out the life of each person every ten years during census years. This way you may extract enough information to reach the most likely conclusion, and you can then compare your findings with other historical documents you may find. You will find a census checklist and other helpful extraction forms at the bottom of this post.
Since we are covering various type of records now, we will share the most useful techniques for searching the census effectively, discuss how to use the census to find more records, and identify what we can learn from each census taken. We will also cover state census records and how you can access them.
Most African-Americans were not enumerated until the 1870 US Census, however, many free or emancipated African-Americans do appear on the censuses prior to 1870. You should always start searching your family line in 1930 and move back in time. When you reach the 1870 US Census, and you do not see your family any further back, you will need to identify any possible slave owners. We will discuss this on the 1870 US Census. You will need to research the slave owner and the family forward, and then back in time, so you will need earlier census extraction forms below.
You will discover that each different census provides different types of information. The 1900 US Census gives the month and year the individual was born. Sometimes the information on the census is not correct. For example, If the family was not home when the census taker visited, the neighbors may have provided the information that you see.
The best way to make sure you do not miss a family group for any of the census years is to use census extraction forms to document your findings. I also recommend using the Census Checklist at Family Tree Magazine, where you can download many types of useful forms in .pdf format for no charge.
I have had great success in locating extended family and documenting ancestors by researching every member of the family group on direct and collateral lines. As you can see from the example 1900 US Census extraction above, I record every piece of information documented. It is also a good practice to take notice of the families living in the surrounding area, so I always check who is listed ten houses on either side.
In the next post, we will look closer at the most recent census available to us, the 1930 US Census. We will also discuss the different places you can access the census online. The beta version of FamilySearch is one place where some census images can be accessed free: FamilySearch beta.