Census Records: Your next step after the “shoebox papers”

After you have recorded the oral history and personal documents, I recommend your next step in researching your family history should be finding and recording the information on census records. These records are a snapshot of your family at the time the census was taken and contain a wealth of information that can be used to describe the lives of your family.

When I initially started my research, I used the names to extend my family tree back through the generations. However, the records are much more than a list of names and a head count of the population. I use the information found in the columns that are beyond the names to bring my ancestors alive. Here are examples of using this information:

    • For each address I obtain a picture of the residence and insert the picture into the family history near the narrative listing where my ancestors lived. I feel this gives more insight to the neighborhood where they lived and brings more life to family histories. Early pictures were obtained by traveling to the location and using a camera. My current methods include using Google Maps Street View o find the image of the homes. Printing or downloading this image is not an available option but using the snipping tool program on Windows computers allows me to capture the image and save it for use in my family histories.
  • If the family moved across the continent as the land was settled, I include a map showing the year and the location with connecting lines to show the westward movement.
  • Explore the local and American history for the time period around the census record for events that may have affected your ancestor. This research may uncover reasons for relocations, change of occupation, causes for early deaths or other events in their lives.
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