Step #3: Census Lists
The most common site from which to get census info is Ancestry.com, but it is by no means the only place.
Skip around on the internet…different places will have different sections at different times, but ancestry.com has all of the federal censuses, and many state censuses, as well, including the newly released 1940 Federal Census.
But, ancestry.com also offers the entire 1880 Federal Census for free at all times.
The 1880 census is a great place to start if your research has taken you back that far…it includes where an individual is from, where their parents are from, and the relationship of the individual to others living in the same household.
Census information is both wonderfully helpful and wildly frustrating all at the same time.
If you have worked with census materials before, you know what I’m talking about.
It is amazingly breathtaking to find your relative, living amongst his or her family members, even if it doesn’t bring about learning anything new.
Just seeing someone YOU are related to, going through their everyday life, right there in black and white is strangely comforting.
Except when you DON’T find that person.
Why isn’t your relative where he/she is supposed to be? There are many, many reasons, including a misspelling of the surname, a misspelling of the town name, a mistaking of Mecklenburg County, Virginia for Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, or…simply that your relative was overlooked, out of town, moved just prior to the census taking, died just prior to the census taking…all sorts of inconvenient trivial reasons.
And then, to make things even more frustrating, a ridiculous amount of information on the census forms is just plain WRONG.
Why is this?
Again, there are any number of reasons, ranging from the census taker misunderstanding what he was told, to family members thinking certain information was true, to neighbors helpfully supplying incorrect information.
On the 1860 Federal Census for Fiddletown, Amador County, California, to my delight and excitement, I found my great-great grandfather living at home with his parents.
To my frustration and chagrin, his mother (my great-great-great grandmother) only had a squiggle representing her name. Her age was listed, but not her name.
It took me much research on future censuses to finally learn her name (Dinah).
With luck, this will not be the case with your research.