Read between the Census Lines

census-taker-1930The use of US Federal and state census records are invaluable for anyone doing family history research. Unfortunately, you might not be looking at all the details and information each census record offers.

Starting with the left side look at and record any information and number relating to where the family house is located. Not every year had the street address and street name, that came in later censuses. However, early censuses did have marked if the house was a farm. There could be a neighborhood name for a more urban location.

Next is the name of your ancestors. Look not just at your ancestors but look up and down at other names on the census sheet and even other pages. There could be grandparents living two or three houses away. Look and record each name in a household, that name could show up later. I have seen those who were related and the listing had the person as a boarder.

census-1880-PAThe 1900 census is wonderful with the month and year of a person’s birth. That is so helpful to make sure your other sources for birth are correct. Of course, people do fib about their birth year. Looking at marital status, someone may have stated they were ‘widower’ or ‘widow’ when in fact they were divorced, separated or the spouse had up and disappeared.

In the 1900 and again in 1910, females placed the number of children they had given birth to and how many were alive at that time. That can be a real eye-opener. Women might have had 10 children and in 1900 only 4 were alive. If the number is different than you thought you have more research to do.

Several of the censuses have the head of household list if they owned the house or rented. It is surprising to see how many rented and those who changed locations within ten years. As you move across the census to other questions such as the ability to read and write is always interesting to know. Later census also have how far a person completed their schooling. It was not uncommon for people to just go to the 8th grade decades ago. census-1900-Wisconsin

To the right is about place of birth for the individual and their parents. Look at the rest of the sheet at the other people’s birth places and of their parents on that sheet. There can be many with a similar heritage or ethnic background. Examine about occupations for each person. It is surprising to see how many ladies also worked full-time jobs. On the 1930 census it has a place to write how long a person had been unemployed, another interesting aspect with the Great Depression happening then.

census-1930-OhioBy really noting and examining every number or word on a census sheet for each census available, you can increase what you knew about your ancestors. Do the same for any extended family members you look up also, such as uncles, etc. This will greatly add information to your writing the family history and not just have names and dates. You do need to read ‘between the census lines‘.

Photos: 1930 census taker; census records for 1880 in PA, 1900 in Wisconsin and 1930 in Ohio.

Related genealogy blogs:

Census Facts on the 50 States

US Federal Census

State Censuses

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