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.
- Judy Soniat