“Where did you find all that information?” my dear friend Dave asked. “How do you know all that about my family?”
Well, I told him, it’s all right there in the census. Dave has been researching his family for a few years and has amassed a nice Ancestry.com database full of juicy tidbits, but he had never heard of extracting a census quite the way I do it. (I will be providing examples in upcoming posts, starting with my dad and mom in 1940 and 1930.)
I think that using the United States census to create a framework of your family—or skeleton or scaffold or building block, whatever your metaphor of choice is—is an invaluable tool. I use Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org to locate a particular family group and then zoom in on the census to find more details. I think the census is more important in the beginning than vital records. I know, I know: heresy! But the census helps me to put family groups together in a way that a random collection of BMDs does not. Now I am cognizant of the fact that just because a group of people lived together in a specific household, it does not mean that they were related. But it’s a start, a pretty good jumping off point.
I have used various tools to extract the census information. Chicken-scratchings on scraps of paper, forms provided by my local genealogy library in which I handwrite the details, spreadsheets from CensusTools.com (one of the best deals in genealogy-dom). I’d really like to check out the database program Clooz which looks promising—Version 4 was supposed to be out at the end of 2018, so I’ll wait for that. But my favorite method remains the one that I have created which makes it so easy to read and understand the data without squinting or tracking my eye across a number of columns. (I just turned 58 and my peepers are fading fast.) It makes the information almost like a story, and I do like my stories. I’m looking forward in my next post to getting into the meat of my genealogy research!