|Experienced genealogical researchers use clues found in one record to find other records about the same individual. This article describes some of the clues found in census records.
Date of birth
- The 1900 census (column 7) indicates the person's month and year of birth; the 1850-1880 and 1910-1930 censuses indicate the person's age.
- The 1870 census (column 13) and 1880 census (column 7) indicate the month in
which the person was born, if born "within the year," that is between June 1, 1869 and May 31, 1870 for the
1870 census, or June 1, 1879 and May 31, 1880, for the 1880 census. The official census day was June 1 in
both 1870 and 1880, although the enumerator may have visited the household at a later date.
- While the person's age is not an exact date of birth, it at least provides a "ballpark" figure useful (1)
for tracking the person from one census to the next, especially if other people have the same name, and (2) for
locating the person in any existing vital records.
Place of birth
- The 1850-1930 censuses indicate the person's state or country of birth, which
helps narrow the geographic scope of search for the specific town of birth.
Date of marriage
- The 1850 census (column 10), 1860 census (column 11), 1870
census (column 14), and 1880 census (column 12) indicate whether the person had married within the
- "Within the year" means during the year before the official census day, that is, between
June 1, 1849 and May 31, 1850, for the 1850 census; between June 1, 1859 and May 31, 1860, for the 1860 census;
between June 1, 1869 and May 31, 1870, for the 1870 census; and between June 1, 1879 and May 31, 1880, for the
1880 census. The official census day was June 1 in each of these census years, although the enumerator may have
visited the household at a later date.
- The 1900 census (column 10) and 1910 census (column 9) indicate the number of
years of marriage for each married person.
Number of children
- The 1900 census (column 11) and 1910 census (column 10) indicate how many
children were born to each woman. The 1900 census (column 12)
and 1910 census (column 11) indicate how many of those children were still living.
These clues can help determine whether the researcher has identified all children in a given family, and whether any
were deceased when either census was taken.
- The 1900 census (column 16), 1910 census (column 15), 1920
census (column 13), and 1930 census (column 22)
each indicate the person's year of immigration to the United States. This information should help in locating a ship
passenger arrival list.
- The 1870 census (column 19) has a check mark for "Male Citizens of the U.S. of 21 years of age and upwards." If the person was a foreign-born citizen, this means that he had become naturalized by 1870.
- The 1900 census (column 18), the 1910 census (column 16), and 1920 census (column 14), and
1930 census (column 23) indicate the person's naturalization status. The answers are "Al" for alien, "Pa" for "first papers," and "Na" for naturalized.
- The 1920 census (column 15) indicates the year in which the person was naturalized.
- The 1870 census (columns 11-12) have check marks if the person's parents
were "of foreign birth."
- The 1880 census (columns 25-26), 1900 census (columns 14-15),
1910 census (columns 13-14), 1920 census (columns 21 & 23),
and 1930 census (columns 19-20) indicate the
person's parents' birthplaces.
- Service in Union or Confederate Army or Navy
- The 1910 census (column 30) indicates whether the person was
a "survivor of the Union or Confederate Army or Navy." The answers are "UA" for
Union Army, "UN" for Union Navy, "CA" for Confederate Army, and "CN" for
Confederate Navy. These clues lead to military service and pension records;
see Civil War Records
and Confederate Pension Records for more information.
- A word of caution: On the 1910 census, columns 30-32 are often "overwritten" with numbers
like 2-1-0-0 or 6-9-0-0. These numbers are not the answers for columns 30-32, but were data summaries
used by Census Bureau tabulators in Washington, DC, to compile statistical data.
- The 1930 census (column 31)
indicates Civil War veterans with the abbreviation "CW."
- Military Service, 1898-1918, in Major Wars
- The 1930 census (column 31) indicates military
service in other wars with "Sp" for Spanish-American War, "Phil" for Philippine
Insurrection, "Box" for Boxer Rebellion, "Mex" for Mexican Expedition, and "WW" for
World War I.
- The 1850 census (column 8), 1860 census (column 8), and 1870
census (column 8) indicate the value of real property (land) owned by each person.
- The 1900 census (column 25), 1910 census (column 26), 1920
census (column 7), and 1930 census (column 7) indicate whether the person owned ("O")
or rented ("R") the home or farm.
- The 1900 census (column 26), 1910 census (column 27), and 1920
census (column 8) indicate whether home and farm owners owned their property with a mortgage ("M") or free of
- The 1930 census (column 8) indicates the value of
home, if owned, or the monthly rental, if rented.
- The 1850 census (column 7), 1860 census (column 7), 1870
census (column 7), and 1880 census (column 13) all indicate the person's occupation.
If the answer is "farmer," the researcher should look for information about the farmer's
land ownership, crops, and livestock in the agricultural census schedules. If the person was a saw or grist miller,
cheese maker, or other "manufacturer," the researcher should check the manufacturing census
- Agricultural census schedules exist for 1850-1880; manufacturing census schedules exist for 1820
- For more information and roll lists of nonpopulation census schedules available as NARA microfilm publications, see
Nonpopulation Census Records.