Question of the Week: How do you incorporate census data into profiles?

+34 votes

This week's question comes courtesy of Norm Lindquist. Thanks, Norm!

To expand on the above, when you encounter a census record for an individual or a family, what do you do with it? What bits of information do you look for, and what do you add to the profile?

Personally, I will add a profile for every person on the census listing, and I add a citation for that listing to every profile. I also try to glean information from that listing like marital status, occupation, and -- of course -- birth date and location.

I also like to look at the image when it's available to see if I recognize the names of neighbors. This can be really great for tracking down people you may have lost due to transcription errors. 

How about the rest of you??? Give us your creative uses of census records!

asked May 5, 2017 in The Tree House by Julie Ricketts G2G6 Pilot (236,440 points)

@Norm -- My apologies for the late reply to your post asking or examples. I hope that some of the information that others have posted here have helped.

I, unfortunately, haven't had a lot of time to work on my genealogy lately, and I'm not sure I can pull out good examples of the census data. I have this one where I've outlined timeline entries using census data. Here's another where I've created a timeline using census information among other records.

I'm not sure what you're looking for exactly. Can you give me some specifics?? 

I use the citation from Family search, and sometimes, tho not always add the family listed in the FS Index. But I'm also extracting census because the FS index is sometimes wrong when it comes to my family name. So my job isn't to correct the enumerators spelling mistakes, altho sometimes I do, but to possibly correct the indexers mistakes. And make a few new ones of my own.

So far,   all 3 parts of Barnstable Space:1800_Barnstable_Barnstable_Massachusetts_Census_Part_1

Space:US_Census_Union_County_Arkansas_Master_Index   1830-1850  Brown Township, you'll find all inhabitants have a linked WT profile.  Others that I know or have identified are linked in too.  And those that are linked in also carry a link to the Space Page.

I realize that there is a lot of information on the census that I am not gathering.  I never thought of getting a street map out!  I always look at there occupations, education levels and any details they provide.  Thanks for providing more insight into what information is available on these documents.

...the left hand column (the long unbroken-one) beginning with the 1900 census often has the street name and then the next column may have the house number.  Another interesting thing to note is the value of a home in 1930 vs. the same home in 1940, it's often half the value.
I also like checking the street view and the map. It has shown me that the lineman lived near the railroad tracks in 1920s Chicago; my father's house in 1940 is still there, looking much the same, I think; a family house in Oakland was lost to the freeways; another family member lived near Golden Gate Park in 1908. Zillow, or other real estate sites, can also add perspective: the professor's house near Stanford was about $50K in 1940, when it was new. Houses in that neighborhood, now run in the 3-5 million range.

Also, I noticed that my father's rent in 1940 was $22.50. In 1939, he made $1080, making his rent about 25% of his income.
Michelle, if California and Florida are alike in how they took the land for the freeway, there could be an eminent domain court case, either in that county or at the federal district level.
I do screen shots of the houses I get from Google maps and upload to the galleries on Ancestry.

For one relative, I found a family of the same name living next door, I still wonder if they are related - unfortunately, I don't know how to track down.

I have a very elusive relative I simply can't find before his first wedding in England, athough all births were to be registered by that time.
The street map does add insight in a variety of ways: the railroad lineman lived near the rail yard; the professor's house was only a couple blocks from Stanford; that block in Oakland is now under the freeway. If the house is still there, can also enlighten: a couple doors down from the professor was a lawyer in a brand new house, valued at $50K, now worth 2 or 3 million.
I would love to see a way to pair a census record to an individual so that we can see if two wiki profiles are linking to the same census record.
Lance, one way to do that would be to transcribe the census and link the inhabitants to profiles.

This is what I have done for Union County, AR  If you look at that, in 1850 I have Brown Township done.  There are some in Franklin, El Dorado and Johnson (I think) Maybe Jackson also.

Unless the powers that be who operate the great gadgets we get can find a way to bridge to FS (because its free), but then there is nothing to stop someone from using another site and linking from that census.

31 Answers

+20 votes
Pretty much the same way you do.  But for the U.S. census, the questions asked tend to vary a bit from one census to the next, and some of the records provide additional useful info about the person or family.  In 1900 and 1910, for example, married women were asked how many children they had and how many of those were still living.  Those answers can sometimes help to resolve an open issue (or create a new one).  In some years people were asked if they were able to read or write or speak English, or what their level of education was. or men were asked if they were veterans.  And in the mid-1800s, I found three consecutive records for a family member of an ancestor that labeled him as "idiotic" or "incompetent."  At the time, those tags were used for people who had some form of mental retardation, for example what we now know as Down syndrome.  I have found no other records anywhere that provide any more data on that bit of family lore.  So you can find quite a few "Easter eggs" in the census records if you look for them.
answered May 5, 2017 by Dennis Barton G2G6 Pilot (175,860 points)
Dennis, I found on one of mine a child listed as Idiot "due to medicine". Talking about this with a family member closer to him then I was, who had interviewed other family members, the boy, even grown was never able to live by himself and after his mother died, stayed with other family members.
+13 votes
Some other things I look for are on the 1910 census. How many children were born to this mother, and how many are still living. I also look for if they can read,write and speak english. On the 1940 census I look for how high of an education they have.
answered May 5, 2017 by John Noel G2G6 Pilot (668,070 points)
+13 votes
I tend to use census records in a similar way. They are a good source of persons in the family, and are my starting point for looking up birth/christening records.

I find it useful to track a family through the years... 1851..1861..1871..1881 etc. with addresses, occupations and such. Especially useful is where a father is shown as a widower. A good reason to look for a death record for the wife.

If a person is visiting a family other than their own, I try and provide a link to that other persons profile.
answered May 5, 2017 by Dave Welburn G2G6 Mach 6 (64,980 points)
The British census is great for this. From the 1861 census I discovered a "new" wife which meant she was the woman on the shipping list listed as "Mrs. Heath". It also meant I went looking for a death record of the first wife and a child who did not emigrate at that time, but whom I knew existed. She did not appear in 1871, so I have some idea of when she emigrated too.
+19 votes
The neighbours tip is a great one, thanks! Otherwise I pretty much do what you do. I love getting a census record because it tells us a lot about what's going on in the family. It also shows how well the family are doing - like if they are lucky enough to have servants (who I add too if they don't already have a profile) with their own citations linking back to the original family.

When I'm working on one particular profile I figure out how many census records (if any) there should be in their life, along with birth, marriage and death and plot that out on the bio as I search to fill in the blanks. Then I add info to other profiles on each record as I go. That way, by the time I get to concentrate on a person they often already have a fair few sources.

I had one interesting (if sad) situation where a two year old ancestor had just lost her father and was living with her maternal grandparents in one census while her mother was living with her new husband. Ten years later she was living in the home of her step-father and had taken his name. By the time she married she was using her birth father's name but her step-father was a witness. That says a lot about what was going on in their lives, and all from the census!
answered May 5, 2017 by Susie MacLeod G2G6 Pilot (115,950 points)
+13 votes

I view my profiles as waypoints for someone else to follow.  Along with a timeline I will include a visual summary of what census information I have found. e.g Frank E. Dudley.  In Sweden things are a bit different.  There is so much church data that a Timeline is easy to construct.  The census provides additional information so I add them also.  E.g. John Anderson.

Note that Robert Pratt Dudley was born in March of 1870 and listed as one year old in the census.  On closer examination, we find the census data was collected in March of 1871!

answered May 5, 2017 by Norm Lindquist G2G6 Mach 3 (37,640 points)
edited May 5, 2017 by Norm Lindquist
+26 votes

I love reviewing US census records:

  • Enumeration "as of" vs the actual date can help explain an age which appears incorrect
  • Checking to see if a Post Office or town name are listed. Both can help narrow down where in the county someone lived. It's especially useful when the town was unincorporated. In those cases, the name usually got crossed out and thus not indexed. That town name could have existed in the previous or following census
  • 1850-1880 asked if they were married within the year which can help narrow the range of years in which it occurred
  • 1870 includes the month of marriage if it happened in the previous year - I have one of these; so excited when I found it
  • 1870 & 1880 includes the month of birth if born within the year - I've found a couple of these
  • 1900 asked when a person became a citizen - this is helping narrow when one of our families came to the US from Canada
  • The 1900 & 1910 census asked how many years each person had been married
    • In 1900 it was total # of years married - if the # of years aren't the same for the couple, look for earlier marriages
    • In 1910 it was current marriage only - helps narrow the range of years to search
  • 1900-1930 asked about ownership of property which provides clues for looking at land and estate records. Somebody bought/sold it; if it was still owned when they died, someone inherited it.
  • 1910-1940 asked if they were veterans and of what war which sends me looking for military service records
  • 1940 asked where someone lived in 1935; great for backtracking migration

Look on the last page of a county to see if an corrections were included. The census records we see are transcriptions of the original. Sometimes the transcriber would miss a person and not have room to add them in. They would get added on the last page (I've seen one of these)

When looking at images at FamilySearch and Ancestry (and possibly others), the first and last pages of a "town" can sometimes include people from the previous or next town. I had this happen in one of our Pinellas County, Florida, families. The couple and the older children were on the last page. The remaining children didn't get indexed because they were at the top of the first page of the next town.

answered May 6, 2017 by Debi Hoag G2G6 Pilot (167,120 points)
Debi those are very useful hints, a huge thank you!
+9 votes

When possible, I try to not only get the listed individual, but list him/her with all the members of the household.  When not using FamilySearch, I highlight the listed individual in the household.  All pertinent information is listed with each individual.  FamilySearch transcriptions of census data don't index everything on the census report and one doesn't always get a sense of feel of the neighboring households one gets with the images.  I have used Scotland, England and Wales, Canadian, and US Census reports as well as individual state census reports.  Canadian census reports usually have a religion category that is missing in US ones.  I've also seen where some non-family members of the household for one year wind up marrying into the family in later years. 

Using a timeline approach, the residence factor becomes highlighted when the family moves over time from one location to another. Dr. Christopher Martin Hughey moved from Virginia to Kentucky, to Ohio to Illinois to Kansas and finally to California. 

answered May 6, 2017 by David Hughey G2G6 Pilot (172,410 points)
The 1901 Canadian census includes the complete birth date. The 1911 census includes month and year of birth.
The religion information on the Canadian censuses has helped with probability I'm on the right track with my Smith line.
+12 votes
I agree with everything said so far.  One other thing I do is look to see if the address is still in existence and then go and take a photo of where they lived if the house or apartment has not been turned into a more modern structure.  If it has I look for a similar residence on a nearby street.  This gives me a sense of how they lived.  By taking addresses you can also go into old maps and see what businesses were around because often they worked close by and you can find a link as to how the husband and wife may have met.  For example my Great Grandparents met while Dora was working at Joseph's Father's Candy Company.  The fact that she lived just a few blocks from it and there were no other candy companies close by it made sense that is where she met her future husband.  

Another obscure thing I look at is the date of immigration as it can give a clue of where to look for passenger records and ports of entry.  

If you are really lucky sometimes place of birth of parents will give more than just a country and that can help with old world research.
answered May 6, 2017 by Laura Bozzay G2G6 Pilot (329,890 points)
+8 votes
IMO, Census records are best for relationships; that from 1880 forward in the US. It's great to find an inlaw so Unknown becomes Name. 1860 and before, there's slave information. Good to note that, since genealogy is especially challenging if you have slave ancestors. 1900 and 1910, you get an approximate marriage year & total/surviving children. Sometimes when there's confusion, occupation can help sort out the candidates.

I like how the 1925 Iowa Census includes especially good information on parents. In addition to household members, there's often relations who are neighbors and listed on the same form.

Age, name and birthplace are all a little fuzzy in the Census. I am mostly familiar with US, Canada and England Census, plus various US states and the US Indian Census. I like how the England Census is precise to the village for birthplace. The Indian Census, for the years available is helpful, although it's not consistent in all regions, not unlike the state censuses.

Generally, in my experience, Census records are best for expanding the family and opening up new lines of exploration, rather than for finding detailed information on an individual.
answered May 6, 2017 by Elizabeth Winter G2G6 Mach 5 (54,110 points)
+10 votes

Census records are invaluable as a snapshot of a living family group.  Especially when you're tracing a "John and Mary Smith" couple with near duplicates in the region.  Pinning down one or two uniquely-named children in a particular township or post office location can help clarify the situation.

The holy grail in a census record is a household with three generations where one or more grandparents are named and there are children.  A solid piece of evidence for a lineage, and can help with pinning down which generations were migrating.  A close second is adult siblings living together with their children -- helps with proving the maiden name of a married sister, and her children's relationships to her birth family.

And there are family stories to be reassembled in these records.  My ancestors Lewis and Lavania Burks died relatively young in the 1840s in Virginia, leaving some orphaned children.  Those children show up in the following censuses in the households of their siblings and uncles and aunts, which offer evidence for tracing another generation or two back.  

As others have said, census takers made all kinds of typographical mistakes, assuming they were told reliable information in the first place.  Indexers struggle valiantly with archaic handwriting and physical degradation of the record.  There is a wealth of information in the actual image of the enumeration that isn't always captured by an index or abstract, and it's a minor miracle that family historians now can access those details through the internet.  It's honestly a major change to how the genealogy hobby can be practiced, when we can all see the original record with a minimum of hassle, even if it's not always easy to agree on what it says.  

answered May 6, 2017 by E. Compton G2G6 Mach 7 (76,810 points)
+5 votes
I haven't done this yet, but I have been thinking about adding a photo of the census report to the persons profile. Lots of census photos are available through, and I use tons on my ancestry account. I might use photoshop and add a tiny arrow next to the person I was researching, to make it simpler for others who might be interested.

I know this is quite what you were asking, but that's an idea that crossed my mind.
answered May 6, 2017 by Alex Stronach G2G6 Mach 1 (12,680 points)
I thought the Ancestry photos were copyrighted. If you know otherwise, please share.
Good point. No, I don't know what the copyright rules regarding ancestry are. I wondered about that, as I can't be the first user to think of this, yet I see none on wikitree.
I know that in England and Wales, the images are copyright of the National Archives, so you should add a link rather than a pic.

If you can find the census report on FamilySearch, you can add a link to the image of the actual copy.  That is wahi I do.  I also present a summary of the report,( Date, location, household) on the profile.  Ida D. (Hartley) McCartney (1861 - 1945)

US Census records are not subject to US copyright, as work of the federal government. treats sharing of records you obtained from Ancestry as a violation of its terms of service, but that doesn't apply if you got the record somewhere else.
It's partly because of the lack of consistency in access or ease of access to the original scans that I make sure to copy in the full FS transcript of the household record, plus adding any information they leave out. It also allows someone to review the key evidence supporting your key data and biosketch -- and it will facilitate a genealogist coming in from another family branch to spot connections that you might have missed. It also minimizes the risk from ever-changing urls and broken links.
+3 votes
I add all the children if I dont have them already listed and then I add the Citation details which usually include a link back to the FREE Family Search database.

I have to use the census records from Family Search - because I cannot afford a paid subscription to Ancestry and FMP.

If anyone should add an ancestry or FMP census link to one of my profiles, I am unable to confirm those details so i treat that information as suspect until I can confirm those details.

I am not always able to get to the raw census data either. Unfortunately Family Search is hampered by Ancestry claiming ownership of census data which should NOT be permitted as the census data belongs to the GOVERNMENT and should be freely available to everyone!!!!!

Slowly I am building my collection of raw census records - especially for Devon and Cornwall where my Burrow and Stephens Families lived.

I can't do much about Scotland since I cannot afford to pay for Scotlands People which holds the scottish census data hostage as well.
answered May 10, 2017 by Robynne Lozier G2G6 Pilot (241,290 points)

Don't forget the internet archives has all the images of the census records on their site. They are just not index and you have to scroll through the old fashion way. Which is my preferred method.

+3 votes
My census records are all U.K. If I find an image I add it to images and connect to the profiles of all those listed. Otherwise I copy the data and paste under sources in the profiles.  I realise it makes the sources rather long, especially if there are a few census with large families, but I prefer to do that than just add a link because sometimes those links get changed or broken and once it is on the profile I'm sure it is there for future reference.
answered May 10, 2017 by Christine Frost G2G6 Mach 2 (20,490 points)
+4 votes

I use mainly for census information but i've also used, Ancestry and FMP.

I have created an area in a spreadsheet for each edition of the census (Ie 1841,1851,1861 etc) so that i just have to copy and paste information out of the page and into the spreadsheet.  i make sure all the information lines up and add wikitree ids and then copy the result into the profile with the sourcing all done.  I also use a timeline format for the profiles.  See Maria (Fewings) Dymond (abt. 1829) for example 

I use a table format for all the people in the house and the result that I paste into the profile looks like this...

===->1851 Census @ , Chulmleigh, Devon, England===
The England and Wales Census, 1851 for Chulmleigh, Devon, England shows [[Fewings-91|Maria Diamond]] Married Female , aged 22,  .
People and details listed at the same address, on the date, 30Mar1851,include:-
{| border="1" class="wikitable sortable"
|[[Dymond-196|George Diamond ]]||Head ||M ||22 ||Chulmleigh, Devonshire||1829
|[[Fewings-91|Maria Diamond ]]||Wife ||F ||22 ||Chulmleigh, Devonshire||1829
|}<ref name='Cen1851' >England and Wales Census, 1851, database with images, FamilySearch ( : 24 July 2016), Maria Diamond in household of George Diamond, Chulmleigh, Devon, England; citing Chulmleigh, Devon, England, p. 20, from "1851 England, Scotland and Wales census," database and images, findmypast ( : n.d.); citing PRO HO 107, The National Archives of the UK, Kew, Surrey.</ref>






answered May 10, 2017 by R Hull G2G4 (4,740 points)
edited May 10, 2017 by R Hull
Hello R.Hull,

I really like your formatting for the census. I have never tried this but I have the data and I like the look of how you have presented your data, are there instructions somewhere that I can follow that are step by step? I would like to try this myself.
I agree -- nice way to present the census transcription -- with the source cited so that one can go back to see the original scan if they want. Nice! My practice is to just copy in the FS record, but then I have to replace tabs with comma/space and add a semi-colon/space at the end of each line. That makes it easy to read in edit mode, but then turns into a continuous, run-on paragraph in public mode. I'm too lazy to also add in colons or other coding to make it appear like the FS record.

A suggestion, though: it would be nice if you went one extra step in your initial biosketch to lay out her life story that goes beyond birth and marriage info, but also summarizes where she lived, when she moved, how many children, when she passed away and when significant others passed away, and any juicy details. The timeline nicely provides the detail, but I find that synthesis helpful to tease out any inconsistencies.
+3 votes
In addition to what you mentioned, one thing I find very interesting to look for is the number of children a woman has had versus the number of children who are living at the time of the census.  I find that it can help with validating information I have, as well as potentially he give me new information I haven't found elsewhere (especially related to children who died in infancy and may not make it onto a census as an individual).
answered May 10, 2017 by anonymous G2G6 Mach 3 (30,450 points)
+3 votes
Census records are a gift! Besides all the information to be mined from them, they're a great way to fill in a bio. Like so:

'''Residence in [year]'''

:Town, county, state, country <ref> census citation </ref>

:Household Members:



Even if the census is the only documentation you have, you can use it as part of the bio framework -- an outline which starts with '''Birth''' (or estimated birth) and ends with '''Death.''' The result is a clear, chronological, readable bio. It makes it easy to do a bio when you thought you had very little knowledge of the person.
answered May 10, 2017 by Stephanie Ward G2G6 Mach 1 (18,370 points)
+3 votes
I use and as other have said, habitually look at the film images to gather additional information that's not in the FS indexed data, to verify there weren't transcription errors, and to check the neighboring families.  The latter is especially a good tool for post-Revolution, post-Civil War, and western territory settlement eras when people were exercising land grants and often their extended family members (cousin bait!) would relocate with them.  I also like to have handy the appropriate state county map for the year in question - just Google "(state) county map for (year)."  This helps determine if the person/family actually relocated, or if their previous county of residence was subdivided or renamed.
answered May 10, 2017 by Fred Prisley G2G3 (3,450 points)
+3 votes
Especially for profiles of persons born in the 1900's, I incorporate the details of the census and family in the source citation but I leave the bio's short and don't always create profiles for brothers and sisters. There are two reasons for this:

I do this to encourage new wikitree-er's to add to the profile and feel a part of the community right away. If someone had already filled in all the details, I would feel my contributions less valuable. Yes, we have places to put in funny stories,etc., but if the member who entered the profile did not create the profile of their sister, I could add the sister and my self esteem would inrease and I'd look for more places to make a contribution.

The second reason is that I want to help with db errors, sourcing, and merging. The 3000+ profiles I have on Ancestry will get moved over correctly in time. I really hate to see unsourced profiles, they hold up the merging process we all want to see happen.
answered May 10, 2017 by Bev Spreeman G2G6 (8,760 points)
+3 votes
In addition to many of the other excellent answers about the insights, the practice I have adopted is to copy the transcription of the household record in with the FamilySearch citation, and fill in the extra bits that they miss, e.g. occupation, Parents' birthplace, etc. Then based on that series of census records, I reconstruct the person's life as the biosketch -- and that makes me really look hard at those records and try to figure out any inconsistencies. Copying the records into Sources section adds a good bit of text, but I think it is important because it allows anyone else to review the evidence and confirm/challenge my conclusions. It doesn't make sense to me to post a scan of the record for the various reasons we know, but the annotated transcription I think is valuable for people who may not have access to the original images for whatever reason. The only problem is that I then get the Error Report telling me I have too many duplicate lines.... But I can live with that.
answered May 10, 2017 by Tom
+3 votes
well, so far most who have answered have mentioned US census data.  I use census data on older profiles in New France, often they are the only source to give us the approximate age of a person, whose baptism cannot be found.  Other than that, in more recent times, I've found the country of origin of one ancestor from them (Canadian census, that is) (he came from USA), and approximate age for him, although he's still a large block on my tree.  Also one great great uncle who moved to the US was on US census records.
answered May 10, 2017 by Danielle Liard G2G6 Pilot (113,420 points)

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