What You Can Learn in Census Records

Some of the best genealogical tools available to family history researchers are census records. Not only can they tell you where your ancestors lived at different points in time, but they can tell you much more about them, their lives, and their families.

While the information found in federal census forms varies a bit from decade to decade, here are some examples of the kind of information you may be able to find:

  • Addresses
  • Alternate name spellings or nicknames (nicknames were sometimes given instead of full names)
  • Ages / birth years
  • Place of birth
  • Citizenship status
  • Veteran status
  • Race
  • Language spoken
  • Professions
  • Income
  • Certain disabilities (like deafness and blindness)
  • Education / literacy (could they read and write?)
  • Home ownership / renter / boarder status
  • Marital status
  • Spouse’s name (and age / birth date)
  • Children’s names (and ages / birth dates)
  • Siblings’ names
  • Parents’ names (either when your ancestor appears as a child, or when an adult child takes care of an aging parent)
  • Place of parents’ birth

If you’d like to know what information each federal census questionnaire contains, review copies of the blank census questionnaires from the U.S. Census Bureau. And don’t forget to look for state and international census records as well. In some cases, you’ll find even more information than this. Don’t limit yourself to U.S. census records though. You’ll often find similar info in international censuses when you can find them.

What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned about one of your ancestors in census records?

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