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Making sense of the census: federal, state

While census records have many deficiencies, they are valuable sources of information, said Jayare Roberts, senior consultant for Family Records extraction in the Family and Church History Department, in a class at the annual BYU Genealogy and Family History Conference given Friday, Aug. 4, entitled, "Federal and State Census Records."

Problems with census records include entire polls that are missing, misspelled names and incorrect entries. And some frontier census records were routinely falsified to augment population numbers, he said.

Despite these weaknesses, census records can provide a wealth of information if a researcher looks for the right things. Before beginning, a researcher should ask four questions: What do I want? Where were they? Is there an index available? Is the census still existing?

He noted that the Church's data entry program is completing extraction of the entire 1880 federal U.S. census, containing 51 million names.

In addition, he pointed out that state census records are often more detailed than the federal census. Many state census, which were taken between federal census years, are available after 1855. The federal census can work as an index by finding the location of an individual. Using this location, the state census, which are likely not indexed, can be searched on a county basis to obtain more detail. The New York state census is an example of an especially good poll, he said.

Other public polls also exist, such as mortality schedules, and can provide helpful information as well.

Knowing as much as possible about the census, such as where it was taken, when it was taken, what changes were made in it from one time to the next will be helpful to the researcher.

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