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Why Should I Search for the Census Every Ten Years?

"United States Census, 1900", , FamilySearch ( : Fri Oct 06 22:07:25 UTC 2023), Entry for Frank Vance and Nonan Vance, 1900.

Are you having a challenge with researching one of your ancestors? Have you widened your search to include siblings and children? Sometimes this can lead you straight back to discovering more about your ancestor. One way to begin a sketch of ancestors’ lives is to follow them and their entire family group each census year. The clues that you find can link you to additional records.

Census Tracker

Use the US Census Tracker to record the names of each family group beginning in 1950 or with the most recent census where they first appear. Trace each family member back every census year until they no longer appear. Mark the age recorded on the census each year that you locate them. Using this tool will ensure that you do not miss searching for all of

the extended family members each year that they would have been enumerated.

This will give you a feel for who is living where and with whom. Pay close attention to neighbors, property owners, and places of birth for starters as these details become useful later as you work to glean more information from different record types.


Stay focused on the research question you are trying to answer, and record the places (city, county/parish, state) where your family lived. The eventual quest will be for records that hold the answers that you seek, but you must understand that records are tied to the location where they were generated. This is why tracing your family on the census every ten years is helpful.


Searching the census in this manner may bring attention to members of the family that were never discussed. Sometimes there were children who died before maturity but were enumerated on the census. On the 1900 US Census a child, Mamie Vance, appears, however, neither of the Vance descendants remember her.

This is also the only census where Lafayette appears with his wife, Nunia. She died this same year after their daughter, Laura, was born. Ancestors can also show up married to different spouses that you had no knowledge of beforehand. You will come to understand the birth order of children and any naming patterns that may have existed.

Age differences

Using the census tracker will help you to understand that all the details provided on the census ages are among the least accurate (names and spellings of names vary too). Ages can vary for many reasons. Some are:

• ages were changed to qualify for work or military service

• no recollection of birth date or age

• erroneous information was provided by neighbor or friend

Let us continue proving the case for an extensive search of the census. As a reminder, the 1890 Census is only available in fragments.

Birth order

One of the most useful but less obvious benefits from the census is that it can help you understand the birth order of the siblings of your ancestor. Why is birth order so important? Suppose your female ancestor was born in 1881. She would not appear on a census until 1900. By then she could be married, and without a maiden name it is more difficult to locate parents. So now, how would you proceed to find her parents? Here are two scenarios:

• If you know the names of any older siblings, search the census for them in 1880 to hopefully find their parents.

• Search the death certificates of each of the siblings to see if the parent’s names are mentioned.

Knowing the birth order of children is also important because as you research earlier census records, you may discover more children at home or children enumerated by a nickname. This can get confusing especially if you find children your family never mentioned. The birth order helps you to identify which children you have recorded, and which children are new discoveries for you. Census records prior to 1850 only the name the head of household, so birth order becomes even more significant


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