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Census Indexes Make Life Simpler

Do It Hard or Do It Easy!

If you have census indexes available for the particular census you wish to check, use them.

Here are some tips for making use of indexes in your genealogy search.

The easiest indexes to use are the online ones since you can type in a name you are searching for, and press the enter key to have the online repository zip through the index and return to you those records it deems match your request.

Check All Possible Name Variations

If you are using an index, do not merely search for the name as you know it. In order to conduct a thorough search, you will need to use your imagination to request records for all the various spellings you can think of for your name.

Family picture in the 1920's
Family picture in the 1920's

As an example, I have a family in my tree of Roszel. If I had searched for only that spelling, I would have missed hundreds of entries over the years. I have found more than a dozen other spellings and variations on it, including Roszell, Rosel, Rossell, Rosell, Rossel, Rozell, Rozel, Rawsal, Rowsel, Rowsell, Rowswell, and Rasal. So, do not give up the search easily until you have exhausted all possibilites.

Also, be sure to check all the returned records for gems you would never think of yourself. In other words, be thorough.

Search Widely Geographically

Do not restrict yourself to only one location. Over the years towns and villages, townships, and even states, have changed their boundaries. So, you might believe your ancestor was in Sussex, but in an earlier age, Sussex may have not even existed, or it was in a different township, county, or state or province. Check with some good historical atlases and local histories before you limit yourself.

Some of us had ancestors who stayed in one place, and may still be on the same land from generations ago. That group of the family is much easier to find geographically.

Other of us, including one of my families, moved constantly! They went township to township, county to county, province to state, and so on. They are extremely difficult to find sometimes. It's much easier if they stayed put.

There is a great temptation to mentally place a family in one location based on past censuses. Therefore, sometimes we restrict our searching in census indexes to that location. Resist that temptation if you do not find them there. Be prepared to check even in another country.

You Cannot Find Any Indexes

Of course, if you cannot find a census index for the area in which you are looking, your job is much harder. If you have a feel for where they were in that census year, you will have to begin at the beginning of that locality on the microfilm and read every page until you have reached the end.

The really hard part is when you have done that, and you have not found them. Now where to look? Use some of your other clues as to their locations - land records, wills probated, birth registrations, old newspaper articles, an old family bible - use whatever you have to try to find their location.

United States Census Indexes and the Soundex Codes

In the case of US census records, there is a special index aid called Soundex available for some of the census years. Use its capabilities to aid in your searching.

For more information on Soundex Codes

Make Use of Every Index You Can Find When Searching Census Records



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