U.S. Census Research

At the Los Angeles FamilySearch Library and Home


Revised 12 February 2014 by Jon Schweitzer.

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1. Starting
A. Fill out in pencil your Pedigree Chart and Family Group's Record sheets (FGS) for each family.
B. Exact dates are not necessary, write "Abt ____".
C. Write down everything you know about places, dates and names.
D. Start with the most recent census the ancestor may appear on and work backward in time. Each census will give you more clues.
E. Record all details about the information you find on a separate Family Group Record documentation/notes sheet for each person - CENSUS: 1880, WI, Dane Co., E.D. 121, sheet 32, line 30, name, age, farmer, etc..


2. Federal and state censuses
A. At the LAFSL you must use one of the computers at the LAFSL and the ICON
"Commercial Websites" on the monitor desktop screens and click on Ancestry.com. Look at Special Collections and click on U.S Federal Census Collection. For state censuses from the Federal page do a mouse over Search and click on Census & Voter Lists and at More help click on Link to State Censuses.
If you have access to Ancestry.comat at home, do the census research for federal censuses at http://search.ancestry.com/search/grouplist.aspx?group=USFEDCEN and state censuses at http://learn.ancestry.com/LearnMore/Article.aspx?id=14742 Also search the 1890 civil war union veterans and widows census and 1850-1885 Mortality Schedules.
B. Use the FamilySearch at https://familysearch.org/search for federal and state using the names of persons.
C. The wonderful Heritage Quest website with it's U.S. Federal Census resources and more may NOW be accessed from the Los Angeles CITY Public Library's (LAPL) website at: http://databases.lapl.org/ You need a Los Angeles CITY Public Library card number to access the Heritage Quest website. Scroll down and click on HeritageQuest Online. Enter your card number and the last 4 digits of your phone number you have on file with the LAPL, Enter and chose Search Census or something else.
D. You can also use Heritage Quest at home if you have LA COUNTY Public Library card at http://colapublib.org/periodicals/ Look under "Reference" to find and click on "Heritage Quest". Enter your 13 digit (no spaces) card number and proceed.
E. If you can't find your person, enter ALL possible given and surname variations, nicknames and misspellings.
F. Use the book "Names, Nicknames and Missspelled Names" (Ref 929.4 C191c and 929.4 C191c).
G. Use "A Practical Guide to the Mistakes Made in Census Indexes", pages 31 and 32 (973 X2pra).
H. Use "State Census Records" (973 X2Lai) to learn about state censuses.

3. Counties
A. Check the history of the county In which you think you will find your ancestors.
1. When was it created?
2. What other counties was it created from? Use "Map Guide to the U.S. Federal Censuses 1790-1920" (973 X2th).
B. Make a word map and list all counties adjacent to the one you think your ancestors lived in:
1. Check every name possibility in each of these counties.
2. Look for relatives that might be living near by.


4. Clues to look for
A. The earliest census a couple appears on, as a married couple, is probably the state and county where the marriage took place.
B. The last census a person appears on, as an elderly person, is probably the state and county where the will was probated or where the grave, death record or obituary can be found.
C. You can estimate the parents' marriage date by the birth date of the first child - same year to minus two years.
D. The first child's birthplace is probably where the marriage took place.
E. When you find the location of the marriage, it is likely that you will find their parents living close by.
F. From 1880 on, the census taker asked where the participant's father and mother were born. This is an important clue if the parents' first names are not known.
G. The mother's maiden name can be found in a number of ways:
1. Marriage bond, certificate, license, application or register
2. Her Death certificate or register
3. Her Birth certificate or register
4. Birth certificates or registers of children
H. Grandparents' first names can often be found by using the following rationale:
1. 60% of the time, first sons were named after paternal grandfathers.
2. 60% of the time, second sons were named after maternal grandfathers.
3. Girls were often named after grandmothers.


5. Miscellaneous census information
A. The enumeration date in relationship to a birth date is important to determine an ancestor's age.
B. The census taker designated the head of a household by several methods such as, who owned the land or if no land was owned, who was the "breadwinner".
C. Whenever you find a person on a census record, go forward and backward a few pages to check for relatives who may be living nearby.

6. Other documents
A. AFTER YOU FIND ALL THE INFORMATION YOU CAN, FROM ALL THE AVAILABLE CENSUS RECORDS, you are ready to start searching other documents to verify the information you have.
B. Look in the Family History Library Catalog for microfiche and microfilm numbers for the records that you want to search. The title of a film is the first item on the film. It may have nothing to do with what else is on the film.
1. Birth, marriage, and death records can be found under vital statistics:
a. Look in both county and state levels.
b. You may need to look at all available records such as obituaries, newspapers, probates, wills, town meetings, etc..
2. To find wills, check probate records for a will index:
a. Check county level first.
b. Check city level second.
3. Tax records can determine the year of death.
4. Deeds can show property owned or from whom the land was acquired.
5. Cemeteries can be found at both city and county levels.
6. Naturalization records are found on the county level before 1906.
7. Military records are found at the state and federal level.
8. The pension index is alphabetical by name.
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