Genealogy Tips & Tricks: Search the US Census, vital records, and other records

Search the US Census, vital records, and other By Barry J. Ewell

US Census records are available for the years 1790-1940 and can include names, dates, locations, and occupations. You can also discover and verify vital information through the Social Security Death Index and birth, marriage, and divorce records. Additional life information can be found in immigration, naturalization, and military records.

I like to start with the most recent event of the individual I am researching, which is usually their death. Death certificates are usually the first source in which an official written account will reveal an exact place and date of death. The record also includes additional genealogical details, such as the date and place of birth, name of father, maiden name of mother, name of spouse, social security number, name of cemetery, funeral director, and the name of the informant (often a relative of the deceased).

The clues found in the death record usually provide ideas for my next steps. These clues often include the following:

  • Exact place and date of death known for a person
  • Funeral record
  • Cemetery record
  • Newspaper obituary
  • Social security death record
  • Place where birth, marriage, church, military, occupation, or court records can be found

The first United States census was taken in 1790. Since then, census records have become a major source for locating the place where an ancestor lived, which opens the door to many more discoveries. After 1840, census records also list age, place of birth, occupation, personal wealth, education, spouse, children, hired hands, and even immigration information. To protect individual privacy, the government doesn’t release census data for seventy-two years after the census is taken. The 1940 census is the latest census to be made available.

Related posts

Join Genealogy by Barry Newsletter