Family Tree Friday: Getting Started With Census Records
New researchers are always asking us how to start tracing their family tree. We have so many records that it’s very easy to become overwhelmed when you are beginning your research. We usually tell people to gather as much information about their family as possible, and to ask themselves how their ancestors interacted with the federal government – John wrote about the importance of this awhile back.
But once you’ve gathered your information, where do you go from there?
Census records are one of the easiest ways to get started. It’s usually best to start with the most recent census (currently 1930) and work backwards from there. To show you what you can find by using census records, I’m going to share with you some of my own research.
Before I started, I already knew that my great, great grandmother, Nannie Crozier, was born somewhere between 1850 and 1860, and that she lived in Collin County, Texas until her death in 1938. I knew that she had three daughters – Mary (sometimes called Mamie), Emma, and Lula.
I found Mrs. N.L. Crozier listed as the head of the household in Collin County, Texas. She was 75 years old, so she was born around 1855. Her daughter and son-in-law (Mary and Charles Covington) were also living in her household. Born in Virginia, Nannie was married at age 22. In 1930, she was a widow, so her husband had died sometime before this. She owned her home, which was worth $3,500.
Even though Nannie’s husband had already died before the census was taken, we can tell that he was born in Kentucky. The census asks the place of birth of each person, as well as that of both their father and mother. Mary’s mother (Nannie) was born in Virginia, but her father was born in Kentucky.
One of the most interesting questions in 1930 is whether or not the household had a radio set. Radio wasn’t new in 1930, but it was still young – the FCC wasn’t established until 1934. But by 1930, it was becoming increasingly common for households to own a set. Nannie and her family had their own radio set, as did several other families on the same census page.
Even though I already knew some names and dates before I started, you can see that I found a lot of information about Nannie and her family, more than I knew before I began.
Next time I’ll show you some earlier census records and describe what I found in them.