Introduction to the Census
by Mandy Mathews, Family Historian
How can Census Records help my genealogical research? Census Records in the United States date back as far as 1790. While early Census Records do not contain a lot of valuable genealogical information, they can be helpful. Many countries have Census Records available for research and many of them are available on the internet. With census records becoming easier to access, you should be aware of the value they have.
In the United States the first “valuable” census was taken in 1850. In England and Wales it was 1841. The census for those years asked individuals to list every name in the household, hence the reason we deem them “valuable.” Before that the census asked for the head of household only and then had columns to check for the gender and approximate age of others in the household.
The census is taken every ten years, in the United States it is taken at the mark of every decade; 1850, 1860, 1870, and so on. In the United Kingdom and Canada the census is taken the first year of each new decade; 1851, 1861, 1871, and so on. These records are released to the public for research after a certain amount of time that varies by country. In the United States it is 70 years. We now have access to U.S. Census Records from 1930 and before. In the United Kingdom and Canada the wait time is 90 years, so we have access to the 1911 and earlier.
The information requested on the census can vary from one year to the next. Some census years offer how many years a couple has been married, others ask what year immigration occurred. It is beneficial to search for every census available during the course of a person’s life. The information gained can be different from one year to the next and it can help paint a picture of what your ancestor’s life was like as it evolved throughout the years.
Over the next few weeks we will highlight the different census years and what information they contain. For example, the 1890 census in the United States was almost completely destroyed in a fire. There are only a few fragments that remain. How can you fill in the gap from the 1880 census to the 1900? We will discuss records that are available to help you do that.
In the meantime, here are a few websites you may want to try:
www.ancestry.com – for fee based site that has wonderful census records to view.
I’m sure there are many more websites that have census images available; these are just a few of my favorites. If you haven’t searched for your ancestor on the census yet, give it a try. You might be surprised at what you find!
www.heritagequestonline.com – free census searching through most public libraries and universities.
www.usgenweb.org – a volunteer based website that is building a census transcription database free of charge.