Monday, June 2, 2014

Prairie State Sams Seminar

Thanks to the members of the Prairie State Sams for a chance to speak with them at their Campout for Charity at the Iroquois County Fairgrounds on Saturday, May 31, 2014. What a great crowd, and what great weather for a weekend of camping! This group was raising money for three charities with lots of fun activities during their 4-day campout. We really enjoyed our time with them and hope everyone got some useful information or ideas.

Mary, Debbie and Janet presented a seminar including information about the services and records available at the Iroquois County Genealogical Society (ICGS) archives in Watseka, Illinois. Read the post from May 30, 2014 for an overview of those records and follow this blog for more details on those records. Next we discussed the U.S. federal census records from 1790-1940 and gave some ideas of what other types of census records can be found.

According to, “The United States was the first country to call for a regularly held census. The Constitution required that a census of all 'Persons...excluding Indians not taxed' be performed to determine the collection of taxes and the appropriation of seats in the House of Representatives.” When you research in the census, be sure to read the information about the census from that specific year for interesting details. A blank extraction form for each year can be found here on Check out the May 2010 issue of Family Tree Magazine for even more census information.

In a recent American Government census it was discovered that the centre of the US population lies in the farm of Mr and Mrs John Herrin of Whitehall, Indiana. Their farm is 8 miles west of Bloomington. (Photo by General Photographic Agency/Getty Images)

General notes about census records. Don’t forget to read the information given about the census database you are using. The additional detail may be just what you need to get to that aha moment. As you use census search pages, remember that names were not always spelled the same as what you see today. Sometimes the names was changed, written incorrectly or transcribed incorrectly due to poor handwriting or poor microfilm copies.

There are several free online sites for census research, the largest of which is at Family Search at can search for names directly, search the Catalog for census, or start with the Family Search Wiki. Enter United States census in the Wiki search box, or use more specific locations. The USGenWeb Project is by volunteers who create content from state, county and local sources. RootsWeb is another website that hosts web pages from different individuals and genealogical organizations who may include census information. Our RootsWeb page is at

Here is a summary what and when certain information is available in each U.S. federal census.

All names in the household were given from 1850 and beyond. In prior censuses, census takers asked only the name of heads of household and the count of others based on ages. Before 1880, we do not know the relationship to head of household even when we have the name. After 1880, each person’s relationship to the head of household is given, so you know if that extra person is just a boarder or a relative. As our country changed, slave counts were dropped and everyone’s information was taken.

Birthdates and birthplaces were not always asked. Ages are given in age ranges only for censuses from 1790-1840. The age ranges differ from decade to decade, but from 1850 and beyond, everyone in the household had the age and the place of birth listed. In 1900, the month and year of birth are listed for all names. If you are looking for someone born within the census year of 1870 and 1880, the age and month of birth are listed. The person’s parents’ places of birth have been listed since 1880. The number of children born to mothers and number still living was recorded in 1890-1910.

Check the census day. As you look at census records, you may notice that the age of your ancestor doesn’t seem to change exactly 10 years at a time. This is due to what is called the “census day.” Information given to the census taker was to be correct as of that year’s census day. Census day was “the first Monday in August” for 1790-1820; June 1 for 1830-1900; April 15 for 1910; January 1 for 1920; and April 1 for 1930 and 1940. This census day change may explain the discrepancy in your ancestor’s age from decade to decade.

Finding marriages make genealogists happy. If a marriage had occurred within the census year, that was noted on the 1850-1890 censuses. The 1870 census even gives the month. Since 1880, marital status was given for each person, and in 1930 persons were asked the age at first marriage. Number of marriages was given in 1900 and 1910.

Knowing something about the citizenship and immigration of ancestors is always helpful. If a person was an alien or not naturalized, this was noted in 1820-1840. You can discover the year of immigration, number of years in the U.S. and naturalization status in various years from 1820-1840 and 1890-1930. For example, in 1940, we see whether the person was born in U.S., alien, filed first papers or naturalized.

Veteran status was given in 1890, 1910 and 1930.  The 1910 census indicated if person was a veteran of the Civil War, and in 1930 veterans were asked in which war or expedition they participated.

There are many, many other types of census collections. Some we mentioned were State Censuses, Slave Schedules, Manufacturing Schedules, DDD Schedules, Mortality Schedules 1850-1880, Veteran Schedules, U.S. Military Casualties, U.S. Draft Registrations and censuses of American Indian tribes. Remember there are also census records in foreign countries.

As you continue your online research, don’t forget to walk away from your computer every so often. We all know how hard that is to do sometimes! Happy searching!

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