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Starting the US Census Records Course

This entry is part 1 of 6 in the series US Census

By Shannon Bennett, Student


Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Online Catalog.

Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Online Catalog.

One of the main go-to sources for genealogical information in American research are the federal census records. Within the first few days or weeks of researching you will pointed to it and be immersed in the glory of all that data. However, unless you really dig into the census many people never uncover the real gems that are hidden just beneath the surface.

The course US: Census Records  is a comprehensive look at the U.S. Census from 1790-1940. Glancing through the syllabus I know I will learn a lot even though I am pretty comfortable with using the census for my research.

The instructors, Scott Andrew Bartley and Beverly Rice, cover a lot of material in the various modules. At first it appeared daunting, particularly when I opened the binder section and saw the sheer amount of pages that were staring back at me. But, you know what, when you are talking over 15 censuses covered in one course, I guess that should be expected.

I am looking forward to learning more about the census history, why they did things, and what was discovered. Also, I am really excited to learn more about the other schedules. I have researched a little into other census schedules, like the 1890 veterans schedule, but I am not as comfortable with them as I would like to be. Hopefully, by the end of the course I will be comfortable the whole way around!

I was pleased to see that the instructors are going to touch on non-state censuses as well. I am particularly interested in the Colonial and Territorial censuses, but they are also going to address Native American census records as well. That information will be invaluable for anyone with Native American roots or colonial / explorer roots.

The last module will be on alternative and substitute records. I wonder if this is where we will get advice on where else to look for information in case the census you need is missing. Most people are familiar with record loss, particularly the loss of a majority of the 1890 U.S. Census to fire, and I am pleased to see the instructors intend to touch on alternative records. To me, the further you are from the date of creation for a record the more likely it is to be lost. I think knowing where to look for alternative information is part of being an investigator, and let’s face it, we are investigators!

Well, I’m off to start the course. See you online!

Sink or Swim: US Census Records

This entry is part 2 of 6 in the series US Census

By Shannon Bennett, Student

Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. cph 3c34542

Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. cph 3c34542

Nothing like jumping in and seeing if you sink or swim. There is no goofing off and easing into the subject matter with this course. You are into the meat of the subject from page one, which is great!  Don’t get me wrong, I am happy to start off strong. There is just a lot, and I mean a lot, of information.

These first two modules cover the U.S. Census from 1790-1940. There are detailed explanations of what is on the census, why it was there, how it changed, and what the data means. That is a lot of information covered 15 times over. Good, needed, and useful, but a lot of information.

I particularly appreciate the breakdown for each census on what was asked. Seeing it typed out in list form made it easier to digest and understand than just looking at it across the top of a census page. It was also fascinating to see how that information changed, evolved, and grew over the decades. I could easily see how the census became an incredible source for statistical information about the population of the United States at that time.

The section on strategies for using the Federal Census was particularly good. Three examples were given on ways that researchers can analyze the information on the records, particularly when they are tracing a person or a family through multiple census years. Of course, you might have a way that you like to do it that is not at all like they suggest, but it was great to see how other people might analyze the information.

When I am tracing a family through the census I tend to use a timeline approach. Each person is placed on a timeline and the information for each year is placed on the chart. When this is used in conjunction with a narrative (all of the information from the record written out in words) a nice flowing chart comes together. Other people use worksheets, but that makes my head hurt from information over load.

What I think is the important takeaway message is that we each have different ways we like to breakdown and analyze the information we come into contact with. As long as we are consistent, don’t miss items, and can understand what is presented our method doesn’t matter.  If you don’t have a consistent method though, you might want to read this section extra carefully and try the three proposed analysis suggestions.

There’s More to the US Census

This entry is part 3 of 6 in the series US Census

By Shannon Bennett, Student

How many of you knew that there were other types of US Census schedules?  If you did know, did you know how many different types there are? I knew about a couple of them but I had no idea that there were so many.

Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA.  thc 5a36898

Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. thc 5a36898

Non-population schedules are great ways to gather more information about the family and the community you are researching. They can tell you about the job people held, if they lived on an Indian Reservation, what animals or crops they raised, about the industries in the town, and even information about their deaths. That is a lot of information, a lot of really good information, which can not only lead you to more information but in some instances it could give you a completely new insight into the environment they worked and lived.

Over half of the 1890 Veteran’s Schedule was lost with the destruction of the 1890 Population Schedule, but I have to tell you it is a schedule I love to search (to read more about Veterans Schedules see the FamilySearch Research Wiki). While not many of my direct line ancestors are in it (majority of the Alabama to Kansas forms were destroyed, and my family hails from Indiana) I was lucky enough to find additional information on many of my husband’s trickier lines.

I also learned that I need to go back and look at the Agricultural Schedules. Some non-population schedules are available from . Unfortunately for me, they are not digitized and I will most likely need to go to the National Archives in Washington, D.C. to see them.  A majority of my family were farmers and when I went back to look at their population schedules I saw many of them were included on the Agricultural Schedule too.  That information could give me a lot of information about their farms and how they lived.

Unfortunately, like with a lot of the research I do, many of the schedules I would really, really like to research are not available for the state the majority of my family is from. I have an subscription and thankfully they tell you on drop down menus what states are available. Those drop- down menus will save you hours of fruitless searches!

If you are researching American ancestors think about what you could find in these non-population schedules. I bet you could find a clue to bust down a brick wall or two.

Okay, on to the final modules of the US: Census Records course.  See you online!

Maps and the US Census

This entry is part 4 of 6 in the series US Census

By Shannon Bennett, Student

Map of the United States of America. Library of Congress.

Map of the United States of America. Library of Congress.

I love maps. Really, maps are a fantastic research tool, and even more important when you are using census records. Think about it, why do you think that would be the case?  I can think of several reasons; hopefully mine and yours match.

Boundaries in the U.S. shifted, changed, and morphed over the years into what we know today. During western expansion, borders could be re-written almost overnight. Think about how many times over the course of the 10 years between enumerations this may have happened. In fact, your family may never have  actually picked up and moved but that doesn’t mean that they are listed as living in the same place when the next census came along. Frustrating isn’t it?

That’s why I was excited to see a section about maps included in the US Census Records  course . You should have access to the maps for the all of the places you are researching. It can really help you put the information you learn into perspective. Particularly, like I already said, if you know your family never moved but the census states differently. Locating those shifting boundaries is like turning on a light bulb on in a dark room sometimes.

Maps can also help you determine how the territorial and state boundaries shifted over various years.  Even better, sometimes territories had their own censuses. This makes knowing when states formed from them even more critical. These territorial census records are interesting but they don’t always contain as much, or the same, information as the Federal records.

My husband’s family moved to the Washington Territory in the 1870s. Looking at these records helped fill in the family information in-between the Federal Censuses.  It also helped reconfirm information like ages and places of birth.

Okay, I am off to take the final. See you online!

Finishing Up: The US Census Course

This entry is part 5 of 6 in the series US Census

By Shannon Bennett, Student

What a wonderful course!  Really, once again I am surprised by exactly how much I didn’t know about a simple, basic topic. The U.S. Federal Census is a staple for researchers in the states, but it is also complicated and at times detailed. Unless the family history researcher takes the time to dig deeper it will never give up all of its secrets to them. I would almost say it could be a trial in patience and perseverance.

Woman taking census of another woman at door of house. Library of Congress.

Woman taking census of another woman at door of house. Library of Congress.

Some people might not understand why this course could be of use to anyone who is already an intermediate or more advanced genealogist. Simply put, I would say anyone with that outlook is wrong.  (Well, unless they are a true expert in the U.S. Census.) So, unless you have written a book on the subject, or this is your niche, I bet you can take away quite a bit from the course.

I thought I knew quite a lot about this basic subject but I was very appreciative of how in-depth the course is. There were obvious holes in my knowledge, and I enjoyed learning about aspects of the census that I didn’t know as much about. I really liked that there were a large number of charts and tips to aid the student in their classwork. Which, I will admit, I have already tabbed so that I can use them again for future reference.

Speaking of classwork, I was excited to have a few case studies to do. These type of problems really help to hone your skills and ingrain the lessons the instructors were trying to teach.  Working on “real” problems to me is a lot of fun. I mean really, genealogists are detectives to begin with so we should all love questions where we get to go out and do research to put to the test what we have learned.

If you have US ancestors, consider taking this course. It provides a good foundation for solid research techniques using these records.

See you online!


Learning More About the US Census Course

This entry is part 6 of 6 in the series US Census

Think you may want to take the U.S. Census Records course but not sure what to expect? Join Gena Philibert-Ortega and Shannon Bennett for a special student discussion on Wednesday, September 24th at 2:00 PM EDT. You will have the opportunity to ask Shannon Bennett about her experience with this fabulous course.

Time zones: Wednesday, September 24th – 2:00 PM Eastern; 1:00 PM Central; 11:00 AM Pacific; 7:00 PM in London, England; Thursday, September 25th – 4:00 AM in Sydney, Australia

(NOTE: No user name or password required. Please type in your first and last name; then click “Enter as a Guest”.)


If you have not attended a Virtual Meeting before, read the Instructions available at If this URL does not open, please go to, click on Information in the top menu bar, and then Virtual Learning Room in the drop down menu. The link to the Instructions (in PDF format) will be at the top right of the page (you may need to scroll over to the right side of the page).

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