Finding a birthplace with census
Beginning in 1850, the census recorded the birthplace of each individual in the family. In addition, beginning in 1880, the census asks for the birthplace of each individual's father and mother. To find out if your ancestor appears in an 1850 or later census, it's easiest to consult a either a CD-ROM or bound census index. Even if you don't find the exact name that you need in the index, it is worth looking at all records for families with that surname in the state, as long as the surname isn't too common. For example, if you are looking for Roberto Zubilaga, but only find John Zubilaga and Gianni Zubilaga in the index, look at those records. Using this method, you may come across the family that you are looking for.
Some libraries have CD-ROM census indexes and you can also purchase selected Family Archives containing census indexes from Genealogy.com, Inc. The FamilyFinder Index, a feature of Family Tree Maker software and available for searching at FamilyTreeMaker.com, is an index of over 220 million names from census records, marriage records, social security death records, actual family trees, and more. This feature can help you by telling you if your ancestor's name is actually listed on one of the census CDs Genealogy.com sells. Using the FamilyFinder Index couldn't be easier -- all you need to do is enter the names of your ancestors right into your own computer. If the FamilyFinder Index tells you that your ancestors are listed, then it's simple to locate your ancestor's record. For more information about FamilyFinder, or for information about purchasing CD-ROM indexes, see the topic All about FamilyFinder.
At many libraries you can find bound indexes for pre-1880 censuses. These indexes are organized by state and list individuals in alphabetical order by surname, so you don't need to know the county. Different indexes contain different information that will help you find the census record. Some just give you the county that the person lived in; others tell you more. You can find bound indexes at the National Archives and the National Archives regional centers, the Family History Library of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and branch Family History Centers, and many other libraries. Different locations have different indexes, so check more than one library if you don't find the index that you need. In addition, Soundex indexes are available, with some exceptions, for the years 1880 to 1920. For information about Soundex, see the topic Soundex: what it is and how to use it.
Once you locate your ancestor's name in an index, you will want to look at microfilm copies of the original census records. The original records will help you find the information you need and verify that you have found your ancestor, and not just someone with the same name. Pre-1930 census records are available at the National Archives and National Archives regional centers. Also check with your local public and genealogy libraries, because they may have census records or be part of an interlibrary loan system. In addition, your local Family History Center of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints may either have census records or be able to get copies of them for you.
Access to post-1920 census records is restricted to immediate relatives and descendants. If the individual whose records you are searching for is still living, you must have their written permission to obtain a copy of the record. If the individual is deceased, you must have a certified death certificate. Write to:
Bureau of the Census
They will send you a form that you must fill out and return with a fee.
You may also want to check the information contained in state and local censuses. Not all states and localities took their own censuses and the contents vary from state to state. However, sometimes the information is quite valuable. Genealogy.com has a selection of state census records on CD-ROM, and you can also contact libraries, state archives, and genealogy societies in the area where your ancestors lived. They should be able to tell you if any exist and where you might find them. The Family History Library of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is another possible source.
Our Genealogy "How-To" Guide includes census abstracts that you can print out and take with you when you research with census records. To print out a census abstract, see the topic Abstracts for genealogy records.
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