Census returns can be quite helpful in the quest to recreate an ancestor’s life.
Depending on when and where they lived (and your luck!), you can trace a person backward ten years at a time and see where they lived and whom they married; the names of their children; the names of their parents.
Each census return places the persons enumerated in a specific locale at a specific time. Some years contain a wealth of information other than where people resided and with whom.
The latest available-to-the-public census is 1940. There were up to 34 items of information collected about each person listed. If the person wound up being recorded on one of the supplemental lines, that number leapt to 50.
Yes, a lot of questions compared to the six asked on the first federal census in 1790.
THEN, poor Person 1 had to go on to answer seven more questions for each additional Person 2 through Person 6, and five more questions for Person 7 through Person 12. If married with half a dozen children and both sets of grandparents also sharing the abode, Person 1 got to answer 75 questions--thank goodness for check boxes and multiple choice answers!
But, I digress...forgive me while I scuttle back to the long-dead.
I find the evolution of federal census questions interesting from a purely “what they asked & when” standpoint. Beginning with the column headers from the first census, the evolution follows:
Only the head of the family was named. All the other questions were answered in numerical form or with tic marks.
- name of head of family
- [number of] free white males of 16 years & upwards, including heads of families
- free white males under 16 years
- free white females including heads of families
- all other free persons
The ages of free white males and free white females where broken down into five ranges:
- under 10
- 10 thru 15
- 16 thru 25
- 26 thru 44
- 45 and over
- one new age range added for white males (16 to 18)
- foreigners not naturalized were enumerated
- number of persons engaged in “Agriculture", "Commerce" or "Manufactures”
- slaves and free colored persons enumerated by four age ranges (under 14, 14 to 26, 26 to 45, 45 & upwards)
- all other persons not taxed EXCEPT Indians