canstockphoto16180022 downloaded 3 January 2015

Are you still focusing on your previous research files? Good, because the answer you seek may be sitting in your files and you just haven’t recognized it.

For this challenge, I want you to go back through the census records you have found for your ancestor.

Don’t you just LOVE census records? I do! They create a visual snapshot of a family with neighbors nearby at one point in time. It’s a fantastic record. 

Not so fast, now. I’ve got bad news for you: The census record may have errors, either from the enumerator making a transcription error or from an informant who guessed at the facts.

The good news is, the census is a great starting point for verifying the information you find in it.

Make sure you have found your ancestor and his family in all the censuses for his lifetime. Censuses were kept in the U.S. from 1790 and every ten years thereafter. The most recent census available for searching is the 1940. The 1890 was pretty much destroyed and only fragments remain. See “Census 103: Family Members Missing in Action,” for help to find them.

Once you’ve found your target ancestor in the censuses, take the time to dig deeper into the listings:

Note the official census date. This varied over time. The official census date and the date the enumeration was taken were probably not the same date. See my post, “Census 102: Census Dates,” for the actual census dates. The enumerator was to gather the information based on the census date, not the enumeration date. So, it’s possible that a child born after the census date, but before the enumeration date could have been kept off the census list.

Not only did the census dates vary, but the information changed over time as well.

Read Every Column Heading so you don’t miss the meaning of a single tick mark! For a detailed list of questions by year and some suggested next steps see, “Census 101: The Roadmap To Your Family.”

Note the questions concerning the number of years married, years of immigration and naturalization, how many children born and how many still alive.  (See the 1900 and 1910 U.S. censuses.)

Note relationships if stated. The 1850-1870 censuses do not openly state relationships. Thus, a child in a household between 1850 and 1870 may not be a son or daughter. Beginning in 1880, relationships are stated.

Note parents places of birth if listed. (1880 is the first census for this question.)

Note if he owned his home or rented it. If owned, you should search for a copy of the deed.

Prior to 1850, note the hash marks of age groups for males and females. See if your family reasonably fits within that framework. It’s possible some of the people in the household were not family members.

Note the neighbors. Look for family members nearby. Married daughters may have a different surname.

Search the pages surrounding your family for other family members or associates.

For more help with census analysis, see “Census 104: Read Between The Lines.”

Did you find any new information this time that you hadn’t noticed before? Do you have more leads to pursue to answer your research question?