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Family Tree Friday: Getting Started With Census Records

by on May 14, 2010


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.

Crozier 1930

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.

Census records are available on microfilm, as well as online at Ancestry.com and Footnote.com.


Comments

Evelyn Hartung May 18, 2010 at 8:22 pm

I want to find out where i come from.

Katherine May 19, 2010 at 4:57 pm

Hi Evelyn,

If you haven’t done any genealogy research before, the first thing you should do is gather as much information as you can from family members. Talk to all your relatives to see what they know. The more you know before you start your research, the easier it will be.

Once you’ve done that, I would start with census records. Since the 1930 census is the latest available right now, you would need to know the names of some people who were alive in 1930, and where they were living. If you live near one of our research facilities, I would recommend coming in in person. If you don’t live near one of our facilities, you have some other options – the census records (as well as many other records) have been digitized and are available online at Ancestry.com, as well as other online genealogy databases. Many public libraries make some of these websites available to their patrons, so you should check with your local library. You can also subscribe to them yourself, if you prefer to do it that way.

Also, check out the genealogy section of our website here - there is a lot of good information for beginning researchers. You may find some good tips!

Good luck!

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