Category: | Genealogy

Tips When Searching Census Records

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Using census data can be difficult, but if you think outside the box and work at it, you’ll start finding information that you didn’t think was possible. You just need a little extra information to make it work for you.

1. Look on the Before Page and After Page

When you’re searching census data and you find something, don’t only look at the page you found – look at the before and after pages because there may be useful information there too. More than likely you’ll find information about more family members than just whoever you’re looking for if you try this tactic.

2. Double Check Unusual Names

Many names are family names that aren’t that common. So, if you find an unusual child’s name (for example) that is a relative, often that name will appear again for more of your family members. Try searching for that name, then matching surnames when possible.

3. Look for First Names with Dates

If you can’t locate the person you’re searching for with a last name and date, try using only their first name and birth date. Then you can scroll through and find the surname. Maybe it’s spelled differently than how it’s now spelled. For example, "Knobeloch" might become simply "Knobel".

4. Reverse Surname and First Name

Normally when we search based on the screens that appear, it’ll say "first name" or "last name". Try doing it "wrong" and putting the surname into the first name spot and vice versa. That’s because sometimes people transpose information and this might help you find the right info.

5. Who Was the Neighbor in Land Searches?

If you can’t find your relative but you have the right address, try looking at who was living next door. Often families lived on the same street in the past, so you might find other relatives nearby.

6. Compare Handwriting

A lot of census records were written in hand for many years, because they didn’t have any other way to do it. The handwriting was different from what we are accustomed to today so it might be difficult to recognize letters. When you see a word you know for sure is right, notice how they write those letters so that you can match their style.

7. Think Outside the Box

Don’t think about things in an orderly fashion when it comes to finding old records. Years ago, the census didn’t really record things the same as they do now. For example, they would write down the man’s name, and then just list how many women without names. Same thing with children; they’d just list how many without names.

8. Write It All Down

When you discover something, don’t forget to record it. You want to write it all down so that you can compare it to the next thing that you find.

The more you browse census data, the easier it will be to find the information that you seek. Despite the bad handwriting, the different spelling, and other information, you can eventually compare the data you discover and be 99.9 percent sure that you’ve found the information you seek about your heritage.

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