Census records are one of the basic building blocks of genealogical research. Abstractions, transcriptions, and even images of original records abound on the internet. These can help you make great strides in finding your ancestors. Today and tomorrow will be a two-part series of information that can help you utilize them better.
With electronic databases it has never been easier to find your ancestor in the census. Sometimes you cannot find the individual you are looking for, no matter how hard you try. There are any number of reasons for this. They may not have been enumerated (perhaps there were away, or just didn’t like to talk to “government men”). Their names may have been misread when the census was indexed. Also quite common, depending on where and when you are searching, are missing schedules. For example, the 1790 schedules for Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, New Jersey, Tennessee, and Virginia are missing. And in 1800, the census schedules for the city of Boston (among others) do not survive. If you can’t find the person, be certain that the schedules for the time and place you are researching actually survive.
Sometimes, you may have the opposite problem. You may find what appears to be your ancestor listed more than once in the same census. It may give you pause to ask, is this even possible?The answer is yes. There are any number of reasons someone might be enumerated more than once. This is particularly common for children, especially in rural areas. It took a few weeks to take the census, and enumerators did not always follow the rules given to them. Children would sometimes be visiting relatives (aunts, uncles, grandparents) or be working for neighbors. It is not unusual to find them enumerated in their own family, as well as the family where they were working and living. People also may have moved around census time, and might be enumerated at their old address as well as their new address.
Tomorrow, in part two, we will discuss some other quirks of the census and how knowing about them will help you work with these records better.