21 April 2009

Have You Done Your Census Homework?

I'm always amazed at the people who say they do genealogy but they are clueless about the census. How can you do genealogy & NOT use the census?

Today, I'd like to cover some of the reasons that I believe doing your census homework is an essential part of doing genealogy as well as cover some little known facts about the US Federal census!

  • Tracking your ancestors

  • relationships

  • Wife's maiden name

  • ethnic background

As you can see there are at least four really good reasons (I'm sure I could come up with more if you want to sit here all day and do nothing but read this blog!) that you should be using the census. I'll touch on them briefly then I have some little known points of interest to cover.

First of all how do you know where all your ancestor has lived without tracking them on a census. A woman came to me to have some research done. She claimed her ancestor had NEVER left Michigan, but in my research I found his obit in two (2) Chicago papers. If she had done her census work she would have known he was living in the Chicago area for over 20 years of his life.

Granted not all census show relationships but the ones who do - mainly the 1900-1930, do say things like "wife", "son", "Daughter", "grandchild". Pretty good things to know eh? Yeah I know not all census show all the people living in the household, for whatever reasons people do get left off. But I believe that is the exception rather than the norm.

There are times in the census when you will see other relationships defined in the census besides just that of wife, son, daughter etc. Many times other relatives living within the household for a period of time do manage to get enumerated and give clues to the wife's maiden name. Often her sister or brother or perhaps an elderly parent will be found residing under the same roof.

With the birthplace of the parents being given on the later census records, this makes it possible to at least get a hint of where one's next generation was born. Many times this reflects area's outside of the United States. Ocassionally if one is lucky a village name may appear rather than a country. This can lead to many more exciting discoveries!

Some little known facts about the census -- Census Day - was NOT the day that the census taker visited your house. Instead Census day is the day that all information should be focused on. All information given on the census boils down to "Who was living on the house on Census day of that year"? If the person was alive on Census day he/she was to be enumerated on the census, even if he died before the census taker actually arrived at the house. The date for the year is usually found above the column for the name in the header field. For reference the dates are:

1790,1800,1810,1820 - 1st Monday in August

1830-1900 - was June 1st

1880 Indian Schedule was October 1st

1910 - April 15th

1920 - January 1st

1930-1960 April 1st

So when babies or other relatives are not listed perhaps the reason is the Census day. Take a good hard look at this when people are not where they should be.

The 1840 federal census included a space to list Revolutionary War Pensioners or military service. Its located on the second page of the census after the slave schedules.

1850-1880 Agricultural Schedules - if found can give great details on the lives of those who lived on rural farms. With details such as acreage, types of crops & livestock, it opens the doors to the amount of work that was involved just for these hard working folks to survive.

1850-1880 Mortality schedules provide information on persons who died during the year preceeding the census enumeration. Usually it covers more along the lines of June 1, 1849-June 1, 1850. Persons listed on the mortality schedules were NOT to be listed on the regular census forms. However, as does many other things regarding the census, it depended on the census takers wish, desire or ability to follow the guidelines set down.

This one I must admit I do know of, but have not seen. This is the 1880 Defective, Dependant, Delinquent Schedule. This is for persons who were residents of various asylums, prisons, poorhouses etc. Many of these do appear on the regular census - however you would have to check with your local library or historical society to locate copies of this hard to find schedule.

Keep in mind that the 1890 census was destroyed and only fragments survived. There have been attempts to come up with substitutes but that totally depends on your area. There is an 1890 Union Vets & Widows census but this census covers only a limited area, has very limited info pertaining to civil war service. It is not complete and many area's cover only fragments of the population.

There are also Military & Naval census that cover from 1900-1920 and a census of "territories" that also covers 1900-1920. Also there are slave schedules done for 1850 & 1860, but they do not cover all states.

Also keep in mind that many states did their own state census usually on the off years - by combining use of the both the state & federal census you really have a wealth of information at your fingertips. Not all states did the state census so you will have to check with your local genealogy library or historical society to see if your state did.

As with all materials made or composed by humans there are bound to be errors, but with documenting and backing up your census finds with other sources, using the census to help build & prove your genealogical tree, you should be well on your way to a well rooted & documented family tree! Do your census homework - you'll be glad you did!

Happy researching!


1 comment:

TennLady said...

1880 was the first census to show relationships.

If your ancestor lived in a state like Kentucky, Indiana, Tennessee or Missouri, check the 1890 Union Vet & Widow any way. Sometimes Confederates were entered by mistake and then crossed out.

And of course just because they were alive doesn't mean you'll find them on any census.