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In my last few posts, I showed you how a family group sheet would look and posted a couple from my Ballou family tree.  You may also notice that I included general notes about the family…things I knew or was told, or things I found in books or online.  I also included census record transcriptions.  The census records are important because they contain information about those living in a singular household.  From the first federal census in 1790 til this past census year, 2010, the census has been conducted federally every 10 years.  In 1790 up through 1840, heads of households were named along with the number of people living with them in the same household.  In 1850, the entire household was named and ages recorded.  Although the census question of relationships was not asked yet, you could make a good guesstimate of who belonged to whom.  In 1900, the enumerator asked what month and year each person was born…a “wow” for us genealogy buffs!  A guide to using the census in your genealogy quest can be found here.

Before buying into a genealogy subscription plan in order to access the census, you might want to find out what your local library has to offer.  If your library has a section dedicated to genealogy, they may already have some census records on microfilm.  If they don’t have what you’re looking for, your librarian may be able to order the microfilm for you.   Also, many libraries subscribe to databases such as Heritage Quest and Ancestry.  Check with your library.  Many databases can be accessed from your home computer by just typing in your library card number.  Did you know that?  Cool, huh?  By the way, I just became a card carrying member of the New York Public Library…you know, the one in NYC!  Every New Yorker is eligible to become a member.  Just fill out the form online and you will receive a card in the mail.  It’s great not just for genealogy, but for art, music, etc.  You can have books sent to your library on inter-library loan.  So, whatever you do, don’t overlook this great resource.  And give to your library, if you can.  They need your support!  (Sorry, just had to throw that in when we’re living in the days of Kindle and Nook!)

Another great resource is the Family History Centers, located throughout the U.S.  They are part of the Church of Jesus Christ and Latter Day Saints.  I have found them to be a great resource and the librarians are a great help and an inspiration!  How do you find a Family History Library near you?  Find one here.   Their website familysearch.org is a great resource, too.

I should also mention something else in searching the census records and other records in general.  Have you ever heard of the Soundex?  Well, let me just tell you something here…my family name, Ballou, has been spelled by many people in many ways.  Ballu, Belu, Ballew, Belieu, Bulew, and it goes on and on.  Way back when, many of our ancestors were illiterate and didn’t even know how to spell their own surname, so it was left up to the person writing how he/she thought it should be spelled.  This is where the Soundex comes in.  Remember the old charades game when the person would pull on his ear meaning, “sounds like”?  Well, here on the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) site, you can read about the soundex and how to use it  in order to find your family.

Those of us doing the hunting have the census from 70 + 2 years ago available for research.  In 2012, the 1940 census will be made available to the public.  The 1950 census will be available in 2022, etc.  But while we’re waiting for the 1940 census, we still have a lot to look at and pore through.

The first thing I would do is a google search on the census year I am interested in and the location.  Many local genealogy sites have actual digitized images or transcriptions of certain census records.  Next, I would try my local library and family history center.  Don’t forget to check your library’s magazine and database sections.  If you can’t find what you’re looking for, and you can’t possibly wait for the microfilm to arrive next week at the family history center, for a fee, you can join ancestry.com.  I am a member myself…love it!  Couldn’t live without it!!  I will share more about Ancestry on my next post.  There’s enough for you to read now and you’re probably so overwhelmed that you might just want to fuhgeddaboudit, but don’t!  You will be rewarded when you find that long, lost cousin you never knew you had, who is just as excited about finding you!  Or when you find that someone that has a picture of your great-grandmother as a young girl in her bathing suit!

It’s so rewarding then…believe me!!