Analyzing Census Records: Context Matters!


31 January 2015

A census record is a snapshot, a blink of a lens on one day, freezing in time a person or a family. Still, there is much more that we can glean from a census if we make it a habit to always  analyze our person-of-interest in community context. To do otherwise, is to snip one negative from a roll of historic film and assume that the other negatives on that roll are totally unrelated subjects.

For starters, with the census records we use, we should

  • extract full information on everyone in that household, even if our person is said to be just a boarder.
  • extract full information on individuals in the area who bear the same surname.
  • identify our person's neighbors—at least a dozen dwellings before or after.
  • comb the neighborhood at large for families with similar naming patterns, migration patterns, or occupational patterns.
  • note the identities of community ministers, attorneys, doctors, and other professional men who might have left records.


PHOTOCREDIT:  Pixabay ( downloaded 5 December 2014), Creative Commons public domain image no. 219958; used under license.