Counting on the Census

Census records are one of the most valuable tools to a genealogist, at least in the United States. Many countries periodically count and gather information about their populations, although most didn't conduct nationwide censuses regularly until the nineteenth century.

Census records are valuable for tying a person to a place and for discovering relationships between individuals. For example, suppose you have a great-great-great-grandfather by the name of Nimrod Sanders. You're not sure who his father was, but you do know that he was born in North Carolina. By using a census index, you may be able to find a Nimrod Sanders listed in a North Carolina census index as a child of someone else. If Nimrod's age, location, and siblings' names fit, you may have found one more generation to add to your genealogy.

Often a census includes information such as a person's age, sex, occupation, birthplace, and relationship to the head of the household. Sometimes the enumerators (the people who conduct the census) added comments to the census record (such as a comment on the physical condition of an individual or an indication of his wealth) that may give you further insight into the person's life. For additional information about the value and format of censuses, see Chapter 2.

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