• by Dave Miller


I often have people who are very new to genealogy ask me. "I don't know where to start!" I usually tell them to start with themselves. You'll have to read my previous blog on really getting started with your family history search by starting with "you." Once you have that accomplished, the next step is mom & dad, grandma & grandpa and so on. If you at least have some information on your parents and grandparents, GOOD FOR YOU! You are well ahead of many other folks working on their genealogy. If for some reason you don't have any information on them but do have some names, that's still ok. ALL IS NOT LOST. One set of records that are very valuable for family history searches are the U.S. Census records. The Census records can give you some information which can help you go back to previous generations and also identify locations where your ancestors lived. The U.S. Census began in 1790 and has been conducted every ten years since then. The most recent census which is available to the public is the 1940 Census. The 1950 won't be available to the public until the year 2022. That is due to the 72 year rule regarding the release of the census to the.public. The existing census records that are available to the public can provide you with a lot of information including, names of individuals in a given family since the 1850 census, ages at the time of the census and the state or country of birth. This is very valuable in locating the immigrant ancestors in your family. The early census enumerations did not provide a great deal of information. That began to change with the 1850 census which started to include names of members within a family instead of the number of males and females in a family as was the case in the prior censuses. Since 1850 more and more information was asked and provided in every new enumeration. The 1940 Census which I mentioned as the most recent census available to the public is loaded with information which will help you in your research. For example, the 1940 census asks if you were living at the same place in 1935 as you were in 1940. This is extremely valuable when trying to determine if you had family members who moved around especially during the Great Depression. It will ask if you were born in the U.S. or were foreign born. If you were from the U.S. it will ask which state or in the case of the immigrant ancestor which country they were born. The census will also list street address, occupation and what industry and the income of those working in 1939. It also asks the amount of schooling that person received. In addition to the previously mentioned questions, two individuals were selected from each page of the census and were asked additional questions about their background. This included the location of the parent's birth, the mother tongue, whether they were veterans and if they had a Social Security card. Previous censuses do ask each individual where their parents were born and in some cases, the ethnic background. So if you lucky, perhaps your ancestor is the one who was asked the additional questions in the 1940 Census. You can search the 1940 census free of charge. It is available at the National Archives website, https://1940census.archives.gov/. This site will ask you for the state, county and city of the ancestor which will lead you to several Enumeration Districts to search. An Enumeration District (ED)is a geographical area used in determining the census. So a city could have several EDs in the 1940 Census. So let's say you have no idea where your ancestor was living in 1940. No problem. You can also look up sites such as Ancestry.com http://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=2442 or Family Search.org https://familysearch.org/1940census. Ancestry will ask you to set up a free account before you are able to begin your search. Both these sites will allow you to call up the individual by name in an index. This census will allow you to pick the individual that matches the name and information which most links to your ancestor. There are other sites that also provide this census as well. The information obtained in the 1940 Census can help you in gathering information on your most recent ancestor and help lead you back to the 1930 census which could also provide you with the name of the next generation ancestor. This will ultimately lead you to the immigrant ancestor enumeration in a previous census. With this information, you can find obituaries based on the location where the ancestor lived, further identify them in city directories, which could aid in finding death certificates or even immigration and naturalization papers for that ancestor. Other counties also have census records although many are not as complete as the U.S. Census. So if you are totally lost and really don't know where to start with your family history, try starting with the 1940 U. S. Census. A quick browse of this census should open up some doors for you in your family search.

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