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Overheard in GenForum: Need Help!
by Rhonda R. McClure

Each week Rhonda answers a question from the GenForum message boards and gives her expert answer here. We'd love to hear anything you have to add. Go ahead and leave your comments on GenForum with the original message.

February 10, 2000
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Q: I am very new at this. Please explain where I can find census records for Floyd County, Kentucky. Any other tips on finding my family would be helpful. -- Jennifer

A: It is always exciting to see a newcomer to the fascinating hobby of family history. You will find that as you solve each question, you are immediately intrigued with the new questions that come up. Census records will be but one of the resources you will find yourself working with.

When you are getting started, it is a good idea to read up on this subject. There are many excellent how-to articles online. For example, the Online University here at offers beginning genealogy lessons, and RootsWeb's Guide to Tracing Family Trees has are over twenty lessons that will introduce you to a variety of record types and help you to learn how to use them.

Census records are but one of the many types of records you will find yourself working with to trace back your family history.

An Introduction to Census Records

In the United States, census records were begun in 1790. This was the first census taken for the newly formed country. Census records are usually a method for tracking the population counts in the given district. These counts affected the election of representatives to the governing bodies.

The census records have gone through changes over the last two hundred years. For those census records that have been released so far the changes have been very beneficial to genealogists.

Census records in the United States are not released until 72 years after they have been taken. At the present, that means that the most recent census that we have access to is the 1920 census. The 1930 census will be released in 2002.

The Changing Census

As was mentioned, the census has changed over the years. Below is a break down of the changes and the years that they went into affect. The census is taken every ten years on the federal level. In some states you can find additional state census records that were taken in between the federal census, thus giving a piece of information every five years when you combine the two.

The federal census records that were records in the years 1790 to 1840 are often referred to as the "Head of Family" census records. This is because only the head of the family was mentioned. All others in the household were tallied by age, gender and color. While these cannot necessarily help you in identifying all the individuals in a household, you can usually narrow the search to specific households based on the entries for the different ages.

From 1850 to 1870 the census listed all the names of those who were living in the household at a specific time, 1 June. The questions were geared toward those living in a household at that moment. However, the time which it took for the census to be completed often carried into October. It is important to keep this in mind when working with these census records.

The 1880 to 1920 census continued to list all those in the household, however, also included was the relationship to the head of the household. These are beneficial when one discovers an older individual living in the household.

Other changes to the census have included adding questions about nationality, place of birth of parents, number of years married and number of children born and living.

Floyd County, Kentucky

Floyd County was created in 1800 out of the counties of Fleming, Mason and Montgomery. This means that you will find Floyd County available on microfilmed census records from 1800 on up.

The census records are available in a number of different places. The Family History Library has them, as do many genealogy libraries. How complete the collection is depends on the budget of the library. Many smaller libraries will have census records specific to their locality.

In Conclusion

If your local library does not have these on microfilm, you will want to find your local Family History Center. Family History Centers are found in many local LDS (Mormon) churches, but they are open to everyone interested in doing their genealogy.

Your local Family History Center probably will not have the census records available right there. However, you can order them on a loan basis to the center where you can view them.

See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at

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