What is the census and what type of information can I find in it?
A census is an official enumeration of the population in a particular area. In addition to counting the inhabitants of an area, the census generally collects other vital information, such as names, ages, citizenship status, and ethnic background. The United States government began collecting census data in 1790, and has done so every 10 years since that date. Selected states have also conducted their own censuses over the years.
In the 1850 census you can find the following information:
the name, age, and sex of each individual in the household
whether each individual was white, black, or mulatto
the profession, occupation, or trade of each individual over 15
the value of the real estate owned by each individual
each individual's state, territory, or country of birth
whether or not an individual was married within the year
whether or not an individual attended school within the year
whether or not an individual can read and write, if over 20
whether an individual is deaf, dumb, blind, insane, idiotic, a pauper, or a convict.
Where can I find census data?
Census records are available through the National Archives and the National Archives regional branches. You can also find census records at many libraries, including the Family History Library of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
However, to find your ancestors in these census records, you'll need to use an index. 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.
At many libraries you can also find bound and microfilmed indexes for censuses from 1870 and earlier. You can find indexes at many of the same places where you find census records. Different locations have different indexes, so check more than one library if you don't find the index that you need.
In addition, computerized indexes for census records are becoming available. The FamilyFinder Index, a feature of Family Tree Maker software and also 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 record CDs Broderbund Software 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.
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