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Family Tree Research Using the Census

Updated on November 22, 2020
Pamela99 profile image

I enjoy writing about personal experiences with my family. I am interested in traveling, any culture, ancestry relationships and animals.

1800 Federal Census

Source

Federal Census Information

Do you know what information is in each census? Federal censuses are available for your review from 1790 through 1940 and there are some state censuses as well. If you are researching your family tree the census can be very helpful. The census eventually reveals the great divide between those who owned slaves and those who stood up against slave trade.

Different censuses will give you different information, therefore it is worthwhile to take a good look at each page. In addition to the ancestor you are researching, you may find other names on the page that are related to your ancestor. Preprinted forms were not available until 1830, so the quality of some census are poor.

First Three U.S. Federal Census

The first federal census of August 2, 1790, was completed by the marshals of United States judicial districts. Due to the loss of some censuses the population count was completed through secondary sources. The 1790 census gives a city, state and it lists men over 16 years of age, the number of men under 16 years, free white women, all other people, plus the number of slaves.

On August 4, 1800, the second census collected more information. In addition to city and state the ages are broken down differently. The ages include males and females under 10 years, then 10-16, 16-26, 26-45, 45 and over and slaves.

On August 6, 1810, the 3rd census was complete. The city, state, head of household and all the people were listed just like 1800.

1820-1830 Census Offers New Information

The federal census for 1820 had the heads of the family listed first, then the ages were broken down differently. Free colored males and females were also counted using the same age groupings as those for whites. The number of foreigners that had not been naturalized were included.

People engaged in agriculture, commerce and manufacturing were counted. The last column was for all other people except Indians that were not taxed. Different colored pens were used to avoid counting people twice.

The 5th census was conducted on June 1, 1830, counting 24 states. The head of household and the ages were again listed differently. They are listed under 5 years, 5-10, 10-15, 15-20, 20-30, and over 100 years.

Other categories include:

  • Number of slaves were broken down into years
  • Number of deaf and dumb were counted (under 14 years, 14-24 and 25 and older)
  • Number of blind
  • Foreigners not naturalized were included again.

1840 Census

Source

1840 Census Problems

The 1840 census was the first attempt at counting “insane or idiotic” people. The results showed many more black citizens being insane in non-slaveholding states with a much lower number in the states allowing slavery. Unfortunately, this caused a divide between states as they claimed “colored people” were better off in slaveholding states. This is a sad part of U.S. history where black people are concerned.

The slaves were broken down in age range and other categories include:

  1. Insane and idiotic
  2. The blind
  3. Deaf and dumb
  4. People in a family employed into 7 categories
  5. Number of schools and scholars
  6. Number of people over 20 years who could not read or write
  7. Number of pensioners for the Revolutionary War or military service

1850-1880 Census Lists Women and Children

In the 1850 census it was the first time women and children were listed by name in a census with a household address for the family. This census included:

  1. “name
  2. age
  3. sex
  4. color (white, black or mulatto) for each person
  5. whether deaf and dumb, blind, insane or idiotic
  6. value of real estate owned (required of all free persons)
  7. profession, occupation or trade of each male over 15 years of age
  8. place (state, territory or country) of birth
  9. whether married within the year
  10. whether attended school within the year
  11. whether unable to read and write (for persons over 20)
  12. whether a pauper or convict”

This census showed the amount of agricultural miles, manufacturing production, international trade, education and more.

By the time the 1860 census was completed the country was nearing the Civil War. This census included the value of real estate and personal wealth, place of birth, marriage if attended school this year, those who could not read or write, and it listed whether someone was deaf and dumb, blind, insane, idiotic, pauper, or convict.

Information was obtained for the 1870 Federal Census until August, 1871. This census provided information on the African-American population, only 5 years after the end of the Civil War when slaves were granted freedom. This was the last census conducted by the U.S. Marshal service. This was the first census to record the nativity of the American population.

The 1870 census added the years of education and those who could not read or write.

The 1880 census had some additions to the collection of data. They collected the parent’s birth place, marital status, length of residence in the United States or territory, and place where a disease was contracted. Agriculture information was collected concerning crops and manufacturing operating hours were also collected.

How to Work Around the 1890 Census!

1900 Federal Census

Source

More Information is Added

The 11th U.S. Census was started on June 2, 1890. The data was tabulated by machine for the first time. Then, it was destroyed in a fire at the Commerce Department in Washington, DC on 10 January 1921. The data collected included the month of marriage, if the person was temporarily disabled, maimed, crippled, bedridden or otherwise disabled, number of years in the U.S. and naturalization date.

The 1900 federal census added some more data. The census included the following:

  1. Personal Description
    - Age, sex, color, birthplace, occupation, month and year of birth
    - Marital Status (Single, Married, Widowed, Divorced)
    - Married within previous year
    - Birthplace of parents

  2. Education - Attended school in previous year
    - Ability to read and write in English

  3. Home Data - Value of Real Estate

  4. Citizenship - Number of years in U.S., naturalization, year of Immigration to US
    - Ability to speak English

  5. Location
    - Name of street and number of house

The 1910 census added if they attended school or college, native language or foreign and a yes or no question as to employment.

In 1920 census adds age at last birthday, a street address, age at first marriage, the person’s trade or profession and type of work done. The year of immigration into the U.S., naturalization and the ability to speak English.

Some additional questions were asked on the 1930 census. They asked people if they owned a radio, the value of their home or rent paid, plus veteran information.

1920 US Federal Census | Genealogy Clues to Grow Your Family Tree

Most Recent Census Available for Research

The most recent census that has been released to the public is 1940, and people were asked if they owned a farm, their age, when first married, the highest grade of school completed and the income from wages and salary or other income. The balance of the census was the same as 1930.

Conclusions

The census contains a wealth of information, but it is important to know names and other information is sometimes misspelled. It is also important to look at the date of the enumeration, the address of your ancestor and anyone else on the page that might be related, which may include inlaws. Look over each page carefully.

1855 NY State Census

Source

Federal U.S. Census

Have You Done Family Research Using VCensus?

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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Pamela Oglesby

Comments

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  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    21 months ago from Sunny Florida

    Hi Nell, I hope you are succesful with your family search. I appreciate your comments.

  • Nell Rose profile image

    Nell Rose 

    21 months ago from England

    Hi Pamela, I usee findmypast. They have lots of census on there. I really need to get back on it. Great info!

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    21 months ago from Sunny Florida

    Hi Heidi, It does seem to be boring but it can answer questions sometimes. It is considered a secondary source by the DAR as birth, death and marriage is more important. I appreciate your comments.

  • heidithorne profile image

    Heidi Thorne 

    21 months ago from Chicago Area

    One of my neighbor friends is working with a genealogist to continue a relative's work on their family history. So, yes, these records can provide fascinating insights in the world of the past, even though it just seems to be boring data. Thanks for sharing the info on the census!

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    21 months ago from Sunny Florida

    Hi Ms Dora, I fully agree with abou family discovery. Thank you for your comments. Have a wonderful week.

  • MsDora profile image

    Dora Weithers 

    21 months ago from The Caribbean

    Interesting and useful for those involved in family research. The effects of new family discovering is sometimes very far reaching.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    21 months ago from Sunny Florida

    Hi Prantika, I am glad you found this article interesting. Thanks you so much for you very nice comments.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    21 months ago from Sunny Florida

    Hi Lora, There are many ways to get information besides the census. Birth, death and marriage certificates are bettr sources actually. There are online genealogy sources like Familytree and Ancestry that are very helpful. Parents hopefully can provide some good information to get some proper names to begin. If you do decide to research I wish you the best of luck. I appreciate your comments, Lora.

  • Prantika Samanta profile image

    Prantika Samanta 

    21 months ago from Kolkata, India

    An interesting read. A wonderful article with so much of information. Knowing the family tree is really interesting.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    21 months ago from Sunny Florida

    Hi Robert, I am not sure exactly what you are asking. The census are done each 10 years, and we have one coming up in 2020. Privacy in maintained for many years as the 1940 census was just made public fairly recently. Thanks Robert.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    21 months ago from Sunny Florida

    Hi Flourish, I agree that this is sobering information. Obviously "colored people" were treated poorly to say the least. I wanted to show that and also still give people researching their ancestry exactly what they could find in each census. Thanks for commenting.

  • FlourishAnyway profile image

    FlourishAnyway 

    21 months ago from USA

    My dad has tracked our family tree and found so many surprises. The information you provided her is so sobering — what and who they tracked and didn’t as well as how.

  • AliciaC profile image

    Linda Crampton 

    21 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

    Exploring census information could provide a very interesting look at history as well as family background. Thanks for sharing the idea and the information, Pamela.

  • Robert Sacchi profile image

    Robert Sacchi 

    21 months ago

    Interesting, what are some of the primaries they use?

  • Lora Hollings profile image

    Lora Hollings 

    21 months ago

    A very enlightening and excellent article, Pamela. It is very interesting to go back into time and to see the changes in data collected over time and how it relates to our history as well! Although, I've never done any research into my genealogy, you have given me the incentive to start. I never thought about how these censuses could be used to obtain information about your family tree. I think it would be time well spent to become better acquainted with our ancestors. I would love to know more about them. What a shame about the 1890 census and I probably won't be able to get any info from the state as my ancestors lived in Illinois but I should be able to get some relevant information from those done in 1920-1940.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    21 months ago from Sunny Florida

    Hi Linda, I was amazed at the beautifyl handwriting also. Now they do not want to teach cursive writing in many schools. I am glad you know know something about your ancestry. I appreciate your comments.

  • Carb Diva profile image

    Linda Lum 

    21 months ago from Washington State, USA

    Pamela, I love the idea of researching my family tree. My sister has explored our Dad's family, going back to the 1600s in England. Mom's family is not so straight-forward, however. Her parents were Volga-Deutch and came here in 1902 in steerage, entering at Ellis Island. Amazing the things that they asked (that were perfectly acceptable. PC would not allow such questions now).

    One thing that struck me about the records--the penmanship was beautiful!

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    21 months ago from Sunny Florida

    Hi Ruby, It is sad about slavery. I wanted that to be revealed in this article as well as the wealth of information it holds.

    If you decided to research your genealogy on a site like Ancestry you mght learn much more, but it surely an individual decision. I appreciate your comments.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    21 months ago from Sunny Florida

    Hi Robert, It is actually considered a secondary source by genealogy sites like the DAR, but it does contain a wealth of information. Thank you for your comments.

  • Robert Sacchi profile image

    Robert Sacchi 

    21 months ago

    Thank you for the rundown of the history of the U.S. census. This seems a good source for family data and U.S. history in general.

  • always exploring profile image

    Ruby Jean Richert 

    21 months ago from Southern Illinois

    This was an interesting read, although sad about slavery. My family came from Germany, Ireland and my grandmother on my father's side was one half Indian. Beyond that I don't know. Thanks for sharing.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    21 months ago from Sunny Florida

    Hi Genna, I wanted to tell the good and the bad about the census in this article while giviing the important information for the researchers. I certainly appreciate your comments.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    21 months ago from Sunny Florida

    Hi Sara, Thanks so much for your kind comments.

  • Genna East profile image

    Genna East 

    21 months ago from Massachusetts, USA

    Hi Pamela. What a fascinating article. It also highlights one of the saddest and most humane eras in our history -- slavery. I had no idea of the changes, and the how and the why of the compilation of our census reports. It was quite a surprise -- and a bit of a shock. What a wealth of info. It is also very helpful for people who wish to explore their family tree. Thank you so much for this informative hub.

  • saraz profile image

    SARA 

    21 months ago from Islamabad

    That's a detailed research article.. each and every part is enriched with interesting information.

    Thanks for sharing

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    21 months ago from Sunny Florida

    Hi Betty, I think it is so wonderful when you can get in touch with long-lost relatives and when someone is telling you stories from the past is also great. I appreciate you telling your story and all your comments.

  • Annkf profile image

    Betty A F 

    21 months ago from Florida

    Nice and helpful article Pam,

    I spent about five years researching my ancestry. I started out wanting to learn more about my dad who passed away with I was very young. Our family lost touch with my dad's side of the family, and I knew almost nothing about them or him.

    I loved researching the census records. I found the records from my dad's side, and from when my mom very young.

    I was also able to get in touch with two great aunts who helped a tremendous amount in my research. One of my aunts, (my grandfather's sister) hand wrote stories for me to read about their childhood. She was in her 80's and she loved telling the stories as much as I love hearing and reading them!

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    21 months ago from Sunny Florida

    Hi Vivian, It has been truly interesting for me. I am amazed how many children the poor women had, particularly when they lived on a farm. I do not think researching your family tree is for everyone. Thank you for your comments.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    21 months ago from Sunny Florida

    Hi Mike, The census gives so much information and it is one way to research your family history.

    It is nice to know you are well acquainted with the census. I appreciate your comments.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    21 months ago from Sunny Florida

    Hi Maria, Intergenerational trauma is something I know nothing about, but I would like to read about it also.

    I have found researching my ancestry to be a bit addictive. I appreciate your sweet words. Love and hubs to you, Maria.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    21 months ago from Sunny Florida

    Hi Eric, I have more interests than I have time for. Thanks for commenting on this lovely Sunday.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    21 months ago from Sunny Florida

    Hi Bill, I have been doing this for a dozen years, so yes, I am into this. I have found patriots, those that died of smallpox and a wealth of info.

    I also have photos that I do not recognize. I wish you success if you decide to do the research. I appreciate your comments, my firend.

  • billybuc profile image

    Bill Holland 

    21 months ago from Olympia, WA

    Wow, you are really into this. I mean really into this. Maybe I'll do this...curiosity you know. There is so much of my family I know nothing about. Old photos which mean nothing to me, just faces with no names...it would be nice to fill in the blanks.

  • Ericdierker profile image

    Eric Dierker 

    21 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

    This is really interesting. I love your diversity.

  • marcoujor profile image

    Maria Jordan 

    21 months ago from Jeffersonville PA

    Dear Pamela,

    This sounds like a fascinating journey.

    On a kinda similar note, I have been reading about the effects of intergenerational trauma on us.

    I will be printing out your article, as I am intetested in learning more about my ancestry.

    Your writing never disappoints.

    Love and hugs, Maria

  • Readmikenow profile image

    Readmikenow 

    21 months ago

    This is an excellent article! I did family research using a census. I discovered where my grandparents lived when they first came to this country. I also discovered some interesting things about my family. A census is a very valuable tool when it comes to doing family research.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    21 months ago from Sunny Florida

    Hi Alyssa, I have also visited many libraries and cemeteries. It is nice so many in your family have taken an interest as I also think it is fun to find out all the information. I appreciate your comments.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    21 months ago from Sunny Florida

    Hi John, I know the the U.S. census wouldn't apoly to you, but you can still trace your family lines while in Australia if you have the desire. I appreciate you comments Have a lovely Sunday.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    21 months ago from Sunny Florida

    Hi Lorna, I love tracing my family tree and I have some Irish roots as well. I think it is so interesting. I found I even had some roots spread all over Eruope, but I don't know them all yet. Thanks for commenting Lorna.

  • Noelle7 profile image

    Vivian Coblentz 

    21 months ago

    Pamela,

    My aunt volunteers in a library and is part of the geological society. Digging up info on the family and tracing it back is something she is very passionate about. As for me, I'm content with the family stories that have been passed down and not really interested in the rest. I can see how this could be a fascinating hobby though. You never know what you might learn.

  • Lorna Lamon profile image

    Lorna Lamon 

    21 months ago

    My Aunt traced our Ancestry in Ireland back to the 18th century which was so interesting. Apparently I have roots in Saudi Arabia, and my Great Great Grandmother was French on my mothers side. Your article is full of great advice on such a popular topic.

  • Jodah profile image

    John Hansen 

    21 months ago from Gondwana Land

    I am not in the USA but found the data collected and how it was used etc to be very interesting. I can see how it could be very helpful in family tree research. Thanks for sharing, Pamela.

  • Alyssa Nichol profile image

    Alyssa 

    21 months ago from Ohio

    Growing up, my mom dived into the world of genealogy. I have fond memories of visiting libraries and cemeteries to find more information on our family. My husband's grandpa also has a book filled with information on their ancestors, tracing their lineage all the way back to England and royalty. It's always neat to learn more about ancestors and hear their remarkable stories. My mother-in-law has recently taken interest and is working on finding out more about the family as well. I love seeing her progress and looking at old photos. I will pass this along to her.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    21 months ago from Sunny Florida

    Hi Linda, I have been ablee to use Ancestry for much of mine. I wish I had some good suggestions for you. I did have good luck on a trip I took a few years ago when I went to the state where family first arrived. Thanks for commenting.

  • lindacee profile image

    Linda Chechar 

    21 months ago from Arizona

    Creating a family tree is fun. I haven't been able to track my father's parents from Eastern Europe. They came over and settled in Chicago prior to the Bolshevik Revolution. It's difficult to research my Ukraine family tree. The birth records from the early 1900's are unable to locate.

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