Thursday, May 26, 2011


The United States censuses are an important genealogical tool. Since the census has been taken every tenth year since 1790, we are often able to get snapshots of a person’s life at ten-year intervals by following his/her census records.

From a census, we may learn ancestors’ birth dates, states and countries of origin, parishes/counties/states of residence, and occupations, as well as names and ages of parents, spouses and children. Census schedules vary in the information collected. Early censuses asked only for the name of the head of the family and for very little about the people in the household. Later ones are much more comprehensive.

However, some problems arise when relying only on the census for genealogical information: census records are not made public for 72 years after they were taken; the 1790 United States census was almost completely destroyed by fire; and married women are listed with only their husbands’ last names. Census takers sometimes misspelled names, the ages of household members are not always exact, and the handwriting can sometimes be difficult to decipher. Still, census schedules remain one of the most valuable tools for genealogy researchers.

Parish census records are available in indexed books published by the Terrebonne Genealogical Society and are housed in the Genealogy Collection located on the second floor of the Main Library. These books are very useful, because local genealogists have pored over copies of the handwritten censuses and annotated them with the probable correct spelling of the names listed. The same census records are also available to you free of charge through our library's Ancestry subscription (available only within the library) and through HeritageQuest (available to you both in the library and from home with a library card). The advantage of the locally indexed books is that our unique regional names are more accurately interpreted by folks who recognize a Boudreaux, Arcenaux, or a Pitre when they see them, even in a flowery script.

Genealogists are waiting anxiously for the release of the 1940 schedule in April 2012. In spite of their limitations, the U. S. census records provide genealogical data of impressive scope and breadth. If you have ever wanted to trace your family tree, a census is a great way to get started.

- Judy Soniat

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