10 U.S. Census Tips For Genealogy Research
Useful tips for locating your ancestor on the census
Here are some tips for locating your ancestor on the census and maximizing the information you are able to find.
1. Check the original census image. It's a good idea to check the original image of the census record. There can be errors in the census indexes, or there could be additional information you will not find on the index.
2. Assume that there are errors. Since the census records are only as accurate as the person recording the information, errors were made. There were also language barriers which often caused the information to be translated incorrectly. Always back up your findings with additional documents and records to ensure the information you've found is accurate and correct.
3. Broaden your search. Because the census will often contain errors, you may need to account for an age or place that's different than you expect to find. You want to leave some fields in the search box blank or use a broader range of years.
4. Look for spelling variations. There can be variations of individuals names and ages. The census will list their first or middle names, nicknames or initials or list a different age. Be sure to always check the original record and compare for the alternate spellings. Alternate spellings and variations were common in genealogical records.
5. Use wildcard searches. When you are not having much success, use a wildcard search with the surname. Using an * in your search will give you a variety of endings for part of the name. For example: Rob* will bring up anything beginning with ‘Rob' along with alternate endings to the name. This can be great for complex surnames.
6. Search for another family member. As mentioned before, there are often errors in records and indexes that can make finding an individual difficult. It may help to look for another person in the family; sometimes children can be found easier than parents.
7. Check the neighbors. Researching those who lived nearby can sometimes lead you to additional relatives such as grandparents, in-laws or siblings. There may also be associations you've noticed in other censuses, such as witnesses on a marriage certificate.
8. Look at the state censuses. There are some state censuses available for years that are different then the federal census years. State census record years vary across the specific states and the information recorded is also different. For a list of what state census records are available for each state, see our article on U.S. Census Basics.
9. Look for land ownership. Land ownership and sale of property were recorded. If the census indicates that your ancestor was a land owner, be sure to look at local land records for information that can be useful for learning more about the property and family.
10. Try to work backwards It is a helpful to start with the most recent documents and move backwards from there since the more recent census records are easier to read and search. Start with what you know and go on from there.
Need help finding more records? Try our genealogical records directory which has more than 1.3 million sources to help you more easily locate the available records.
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