Genealogy Immigration/Migration: Using Federal Census records in researching immigrant ancestors

Using Federal Census records in researching immigrant ancestorsBy Barry J. Ewell

The following are records and resources that genealogists find extremely helpful and full of clues to find immigrant ancestors. The information is designed to provide a quick reference and direction of where to find and search for records as probable places to find information.

Federal census records provide the building blocks of your research, allowing you to both confirm information and learn more. The following is an outline of the type of information you may find: From 1790 to 1840, only the head of household is listed, along with the number of household members in selected age groups.

From 1850 to 1940, details such as the following are provided for all individuals in each household:

  • Names of family members
  • Ages at a certain point in time
  • State or country of birth
  • Parent’s birthplaces
  • Year of immigration
  • Street address
  • Marriage status and years of marriage
  • Occupation(s)
  • Value of their home and personal belongings
  • Crops that they grew (in agricultural schedules), or other occupation-related information

Census Records Reveal Naturalization Records
Census records help you to learn the following information about your ancestors:

  • their movement over time
  • names and rough birth years
  • relationships
  • birthplaces
  • clues to the previous generation (such as birthplace)
  • street address
  • whether an ancestor was a slave or a slave owner
  • occupations
  • other country of birth
  • other children who likely died young
  • year of immigration and naturalization
  • naming patterns in your family
  • clues to your family’s economic status
  • some clues about ancestors’ education level
  • some clues to military service
  • some clues to medical conditions
  • year and place of marriage (or at least narrow it down)
  • employment status
  • exceptional circumstances, such as convicts and homeless children
  • native tongue
  • death dates (at least narrow down)
  • other potential branches of your family living nearby

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