5 Secrets To Reading A Census

Have you ever felt intimidated by just looking at a census? Well don’t worry because I’m about to make it a whole lot easier for you. A census is a document that counts the population and collects information like a person’s name, age, race, sex, marital status, and so much more. Generally censuses are done every ten years, so you can imagine how a person’s life can change in that amount of time. Each census will always tell the basic information about a person and their family, but they will also have different and unique information. For instance, some censuses tell where the person and both parents were born and others don’t.  Keep in mind that it’s the little details that will help you decide whether it’s the right person you are searching for or not.

Here are my top five secrets to finding your ancestor:

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1. Identify the vital information: name, age, sex, race. Remember that sometimes people didn’t use the same name given them at birth, so if it’s close keep going. In this first step you can decide whether or not to look deeper into the information. Obviously if the sex or race isn’t correct you wouldn’t continue. Sometimes the age can be off a year or two but don’t stop at this point.

2. Check for their place of birth, marital status, and where they are currently living. The place of birth is a great identifier in helping you locate an ancestor. This would be the same as on previous censuses. Also, if the census has the birth places of the parents, they would be consistent too. A person’s marital status could explain why you haven’t been able to locate their spouse and then would give you a time frame for the spouses death. It would be sometime between the last census where your ancestor was listed as married and living with their spouse.

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3. What is their job title, occupational industry, and where did they live? As you follow a person through different censuses this can change but can also help you keep track of someone that stays in the same industry and doesn’t move around too much.

4. Look around this person on the census to see if their are possible relatives living close by or with them. If there are family members on the same census then that would help confirm that this is your ancestor.

5. Put two and two together. Study the census for all the details combined, and then decide if this is your relative. Remember that this is your best guess. Are there enough correct details to say for sure this is the right person.

Learning how to read all the information on a census record will make you a valuable family detective. There are stories that will unfold before your eyes as you use these records to connect the dots and tell the stories for your ancestors that they can no longer tell themselves.

Happy Hunting!

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