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Sunday, October 16, 2016

Moving Beyond Census Records: Part Eight

While U.S. Census records are extremely popular among genealogists because they are easy to find and use, they still have a number of serious limitations. Some of these limitations are shared with all historical records but because census records are so complete and useful, genealogists have a tendency to ignore their limitations. 

Census records have some major limitations. A more extensive discussion of some of these limitations can be found in the following book:

Greenwood, Val D. 1990. The researcher's guide to American genealogy. Baltimore, Md: Genealogical Pub. Co.

Here are some of the limitations:
  • The people supplying the information are relying on memory and/or may not know the answers to the questions
  • Some of the information may be misrepresented
  • Some of the entries are incomplete
  • The census records are recorded only every ten years and with the missing information from the 1890 Census, the record likely omits some pertinent information such as children who are born and die within the ten year gap
  • Before 1850, the record is difficult to interpret and possibly misleading
  • The entire time covered by the census records only extends back a few generations in a limited area
As genealogical researchers we need to apply the same level of analysis and evaluation to census records as we would to any other record. The information supplied by any one census record should never just be accepted as correct on its face. Experience in examining census records show many instances where the information supplied is contradicted by subsequent censuses.

The 1910 U.S. Federal Census was on one page, even though the readable form shows two separate pages. The 1910 Census also had questions direct at American Indians (Native Americans). Here are the questions asked including those directed at the Indians.
  1. Number of dwelling house in order of enumeration
  2. Number of family in order of enumeration
  3. Name
  4. Relationship to head of the family
  5. Sex
  6. Color or Race: Enumerators were to enter "W" for White, "B" for Black, "Mu" for mulatto, "Ch" for Chinese, "Jp" for Japanese, "In" for American Indian, or "Ot" for other races.
  7. Age
  8. Is the person single, married, widowed, or divorced? Enumerators were to enter "S" for single, "Wd" for widowed, "D" for divorced, "M1" for married persons in their first marriage, and "M2" for those married persons in their second or subsequent marriage.
  9. Number of years of present marriage
  10. How many children is the person the mother of?
  11. Of the children a person has mothered, how many are still alive?
  12. Place of birth of the person
  13. Place of birth of the person's father
  14. Place of birth of the person's mother
  15. Year of immigration to the United States
  16. Is the person naturalized or an alien?
  17. Can the person speak English? If not, what language does the person speak?
  18. The person's trade, profession, or occupation
  19. General nature of the industry, business, or establishment in which this person works
  20. Is the person an employer, employee, or working on his own account?
  21. If the person is an employee, was he out of work on April 15, 1910?
  22. If the person is an employee, what is the number of weeks he was out of work in 1909?
  23. Can the person read?
  24. Can the person write?
  25. Has the person attended school at any time since September, 1909?
  26. Is the person's home owned or rented?
  27. Is the person's home owned free or mortgaged?
  28. Does the person reside in a home or on a farm?
  29. If on a farm, what is the farm's identification number on the census farm schedule?
  30. Is the person a survivor of the Union or Confederate Army or Navy?
  31. Is the person blind in both eyes?
  32. Is the person deaf and dumb?
  33. Tribe of this person
  34. Tribe of this person's father
  35. Tribe of this person's mother
  36. Proportion of this person's lineage that is American Indian
  37. Proportion of this person's lineage that is white
  38. Proportion of this person's lineage that is black
  39. Number of times married
  40. Is this person living in polygamy?
  41. If this person is living in polygamy, are his wives sisters?
  42. If this person graduated from an educational institution, which one?
  43. Is this person a taxed? An American Indian was considered "taxed" if he or she was detached from his or her tribe and was living in the white community and subject to general taxation, or had been allotted land by the federal government and thus acquired citizenship.
  44. If this person had received an allotment of land from the government, what was the year of that allotment?
  45. Is this person residing on his or her own land?
  46. Is this person living in a "civilized" or "aboriginal" dwelling? Enumerators were to mark "Civ." (for "civilized") if the person was living in a log, frame, brick, or stone house, etc. and "Abor." (for "aboriginal") if the person was living in a tent, tepee, cliff dwelling, etc.
The questions regarding marriage and birth of children should be a interest to genealogists. These questions have been used extensively to discover other marriages and children missing from the family. As in previous years, questions concerning where and how the people lived strongly suggest additional records that could be searched.

A positive answer to question number 30 would suggest that further research should be done to locate military records and possible pension records. The questions about immigration and naturalization are valuable in helping researchers to find additional records such as naturalization documents and passenger lists.

It is also important to note any inconsistencies between the answers given in prior census years. Changes in ages and birth dates are common, but other changes may give clues to important information that may have been intentionally omitted in prior censuses.


Previous posts in this series.

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