Once you have gathered the information from your relatives concerning your family history, the detective work begins!
I would start my investigation with census records. In the United States there has been a census of citizens taken every ten years since 1790. Until 1850, the census listed the head of the household by name and included a tally of the members of the household by age, sex, and race.
In 1850, the census included all members of the household by name. It also included the age, sex, color, occupation, and birthplace of individuals. There was also other demographic information collected. This expanded information is very beneficial to genealogists.
In 1870 a 2 columns were added to indicate whether the mother and father of the individual were foreign born. This can help you take your search back an additional generation. In 1880, this was expanded to list the birthplace of the mother and father of the individual. Also, a column was added to list an individual’s relationship to the head of the household.
Most of the 1890 census was destroyed by fire. In 1900, a lot of useful information was added to the census. First, the month and year of birth was added to the data that was collected. Also, mothers listed how many children they had had and how many were still living. Finally, a column was added to indicate what year immigrants came to the United States.
Right now the latest census you are able to access is the 1930 Census, this is due to privacy concerns.
It is now very easy to access census records in the United States. There are a number of services that allow you to search the census online. This makes your job a whole lot easier. When I started researching my family, I had to go to the library and hope they had a census index for the state I was researching. I would then go through the index looking for any conceivable spelling for the family names I was investigating. I would then have to record the location of the desired records, then go through microfiche records to find the actual census image. It was a tedious and time consuming process.
The rewards are satisfying, though. By utilizing census records I was able to add a great deal of information to my family tree.
Remember, when you are using census records (or any other records), there are abundant errors. I have seen a number of spelling errors on the various surnames in my tree. I have seen Whiting spelled as Whiteing, Harton spelled as Harten and Hartens, O’neal is spelled Neal, Finnell as Fennell, Callahan as Callihan. Furthermore, I have seen errors on the birthplace of parents and other family data. In one case, my great-grandmother Nellie Porter Whiting said she immigrated from Canada in 1880 on the 1900 census and in 1879 on the 1910 census.
I hope you find this information useful, I will continue to add “how to” entries on my blog. As always, I look forward to meeting my extended family and will help as much as I can. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact me. I have found that studying my families story has been a great adventure. I hope you get the satisfaction I do from this endeavor.