Ideas for Searching the Census

With the 1940 US Federal Census it has been fun trying to locate our family members and even family friends on that census from over 72 years ago. However, have you also been a bit frustrated when you can not locate a person? It has happened to all of us and not just on the 1940 census, but any from 1790 to 1930, there is bound to be one or more individuals you can not locate on a census. There can many possibilities, including that person was overlooked, in transit, was overseas and unreachable, just numerous reasons. Figuring that is not the case for a ‘lost’ ancestor, here are some ideas of what you should do when searching any census record.

First never just rely on an indexed or transcript of a census record, always view a scanned actual copy. Then look at each name up and down on the page they should be on. An ancestor might have been working or living with a neighbor or another relative during that time. Even look over the one or two pages before and one or two after where you thought the person should be. Same idea, they may be living in another household.

Another tactic is to look at an earlier census where you did find the ancestor and view the names of all the neighbors, especially those who owned their home rather than renters. Then look to see if those same people are on the next census. Do some comparison to find any pattern of who was living in a certain neighborhood.

If you are searching a fairly small town, you can easily browse each page of a census, but take it slow, you could miss a name, especially if it was misspelled by the census taker. Keep handy all the basic information about a person, names, birth year, locations, parents’ birth place, occupations, etc. Having that data right with you and reviewing it will help you spot the ‘lost’ ancestor sooner.

An ancestor with an unusual given name can be a bonus. Put in a search using just the first name and including an approximate birth year and location. Try their middle name on a separate search. Even reverse the given and surname. Search the surname by placing it in the given name box. It just may have been the census taker got confused and accidentally inverted the names. Also just search a surname with no other given names, but to help narrow the list, place an approximate birth year and location. These name methods can be highly successful.

Having problems reading some of the hand written censuses. Then compare the way they wrote other names. Study how a ‘q’ was made or a ‘j’ to better figure out the person’s name, their placement in a household or occupation.

Patience is the key in your search. If your ancestor was placed on the census – you can find them.

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