Master the Census
12/1/2009
Are your ancestors eluding you in US enumerations? Don't rely on hunches and guesses—try these six tactics to conquer the challenges of census research.

Genealogists have a love-hate relationship with the US census. Yes, we love the reams of data those every 10-years population tabulations created, but we loathe inscrutably handwritten enumeration sheets. Between census appearances, ancestors often seem to switch not just residences but birth dates, too. Names can be indecipherable or all too common (is that your James Smith or somebody else's?). Offspring mysteriously appear and disappear. Worst, in some head counts, your ancestors simply refuse to be found at all.

Such vagaries aren't uncommon, given immigrants' speaking accents, census takers' recording errors and less-than-fully informed neighbors' reports when our ancestors weren't home. Not to mention modern indexers' challenging task of interpreting loopy handwriting on fuzzy microfilm. But with a few insider tips and tricks, you can not only find your ancestors in Uncle Sam's enumerations, but also tease out hidden information about their lives. Try these six strategies for reading between the lines of the census.