Searching US Federal Census Records

Searching US Federal Census Records

Searching US Federal Census Records

By: Nancy Massey

Five or six years ago, I made a genealogy goal to find every one of my ancestors on each census record taken during their lifetime.  Why would I do that you might wonder?  Federal census records can have a wealth of information on our ancestors.

I will admit the first few census records from 1790-1840 may not reveal a ton of information; however, they do place our ancestor as head of household in a certain location at a certain time. The rest of the household was counted merely as a number/hash mark for the most part.  Here is James Alsop in 1810.

1810 Census Knox County, Kentucky

1810 Census Knox County, Kentucky

Starting in 1850, the census takers wrote down the names of each person living in the household. They did not state the relationship to the head of household so you do need to take care and not assume the children listed are the sons and daughters of the two adults; they could be nieces and nephews or even grandchildren. Here is Jacob Stickel with his presumed parents and siblings in 1850.

1850 Census Lebanon County, Pennsylvania

1850 Census Lebanon County, Pennsylvania

Then came the 1880 census, census takers started recording the relationship of household members to the head.  This was fantastic information for genealogists! We could piece together our ancestor’s family more easily. Here is William Alsop with his family in 1880.

1880 Census, Hancock County, Kentucky

1880 Census, Hancock County, Kentucky

Sadly, the best census record, 1890, was burned in a fire where they were stored.  What the fire did not destroy, the water putting out the fire did.  A few remnants survived but none of those was in a location where my ancestors lived.

When the 1900 census became available, genealogists were thrilled to discover the census taker recorded the birth month and birth year of our ancestors, as well as their age.  Here is Elizabeth Alsop now a widow, with her children in 1900.

1900 Census, Hancock County, Kentucky

1900 Census, Hancock County, Kentucky

As each successive census record was released, more and more information was recorded.  The last census record released for public viewing is the 1940 census.  I look forward to April 2022 when the 1950 census record is released.

1940 Census, Wayne County, Michigan

1940 Census, Wayne County, Michigan

If you would like to know more about searching census records, please visit the Indiana Room. We would love to show you how to find those records and use them in your ancestral research.  We have Ancestry Library Edition(in-library access) and Heritage Quest Online(remote access) which have searchable access to these records. We also have a class on census records on Saturday, April 27.  You may register for it on our events calendar.

As for me, I am still searching for all of my ancestors on the census records during their lifetimes. A few remain hidden and elusive, but I will find them some day!