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What We Learn from Census Records

Census records provide some of the most useful insights into where our ancestors lived, what they did, and who their neighbors were. To demonstrate, we will soon post census sheets for some Boulden ancestors. First, a few words of explanation:

Years: The US Census is taken every ten years, beginning in 1790. The government just completed its most recent census last year, in 2010. But it is national policy not to release census data until most folks named in it have passed away. The most recent census to be released was the one for 1930, and it was made available about 75 years after it was polled. We should be able to view the 1940 census in another five or six years. Our known Boulden ancestors appear for the first time in 1820, after William Louis Boulden and his family moved to their farm in Ohio.

Names: It’s impossible to find him in the three earlier censuses, because those listed only the Head of Household, with numerical totals added for other members of the household in each age group. So William Louis was almost certainly counted, but since we do not know the name of his head of household, we can’t single him out. After 1850, when the census started naming each person counted, they became much more useful to us in pinpointing the locations of ancestors.

Neighbors: As the census taker walked or rode through the area, he went house to house. So an entry on the same page bespeaks a neighbor who lived nearby. In the very early ones, for example, two nearby neighbor families were the Brandons. So it should be no big surprise that one of WL’s daughters married Levi Brandon years later.  And in 1900, when JL and Mattie were living in Idaho, a nearby neighbor was Erastus Curtis and his wife. They were Mattie’s parents. Nearby lived another Curtis family, presumably Mattie’s brother and family.

We won’t try to include all of the census worksheets available for family members, but we did want to show how they can be helpful tools for learning more about Ancestor families.

Larry Boulden,  Feb. 2011

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