Census records contain many rewarding family details and are often some of the first documents a genealogist uses when they're getting started with family history. Here are six tips to make sure that you're getting the most out of these valuable records.
1. Examine Everyone on the Census Record
Don't just focus on the family you've found in a census record. Look at the entire census image and don't forget to look at the pages following and preceding the original image. When you examine neighboring households, you're likely to find your ancestors' relatives. Families frequently lived near each other and people often married their neighbors.
2. Search Using First Names Only
Family names often changed once a family immigrated to the US. Names were also frequently misspelled or recorded wrong by census takers. If you're having trouble finding a family in the census, leave the last name off the search form completely and try searching only with the household's first names.
3. Reverse the First and Last Names
If you're still not finding your family, try reversing the first and last names. This is another common census taker mistake!
4. Research the Neighbors
Try searching for neighbors when you're can't find your family in a census year. For example, if you found the family in 1900 but can't find them in 1910, go to the 1900 census and record the names of their nearest neighbors (preferably the nearest homeowners--not renters). Now search for those neighbors in 1910. Once you've found them, see if your ancestors are still living nearby.
5. Browse the Entire Community
When you've tried everything else, try browsing. Choose the census year and then the location where your ancestors lived. Next browse the census pages and look for their names.
6. Record Every Detail
There are so many details in census records! Remember to record all of them. Some of this information will help in your search for other records but other details just complete your family's story. Census records tell you more than ages and marital status but these documents also answer the questions: Do they own or rent their home? What's their address? What languages do they speak? Are they literate? Who is their employer? Are they a veteran?