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Tuesday, July 19, 2016

State Censuses Bridge the Genealogy Gap

Eliza Maybin on the 1869 State Census for South Carolina
1869 State Census," images, Greenwood County Library 
accessed 27 Nov 2013), South Carolina > Union; microfilm
Do you have a few genealogy gaps to fill? State or territorial censuses can be used to learn more about an ancestor in conjunction with the federal census. This article will help you determine:
  1. If a state or territorial census exist
  2. How to gain access to the state or territorial census
  3. What you can learn from a state or territorial census
State and territorial censuses
Some states have very few censuses. Unfortunately, no census records exist for the following nine states:
  • Connecticut
  • Idaho
  • Kentucky
  • Montana
  • New Hampshire
  • Ohio
  • Pennsylvania
  • Vermont
  • West Virginia
If your ancestor lived in one of these states during the time you are seeking them, you will need to identify other records to document them. For a complete list of the years that census records exist for states and territories, see State Censuses (United States Census Bureau).

Accessing state or territorial censuses
It is very important to be sure that you are looking in the right place before attempting to locate a state or territorial census. It would be a complete waste of time to finally gain access to a census and not find your ancestor because of boundary changes that you were not aware of. Study the map of an area during the time period your ancestor lived there.

You may find state census records in books, online, or on microfilm. They can be found on microfilm at the local library, state archives, or through the Family History Library. has made some state and territorial censuses available online. Some state censuses have never been published and are still in their original form at the county or parish level. Check the local historical and genealogical societies. Some may have been transcribed or partially transcribed.

It is always best to find the original version of the census just in case errors in transcribing has occurred. Sometimes you will find an index to the census is included just before the census on microfilm. In case there is no index, you will need to browse over to the section where people from the same town as your ancestor were enumerated.

Whenever you want a quick reference about a genealogy resource and how to access it, check the Research Wiki. The wiki article on state censuses provides links to articles where you can learn about state, territorial, and colonial censuses for each state.

What you can learn
State and territorial censuses provide different types of information than other types of censuses. The amount of information found in a state census that is useful for a genealogist is very limited. Sometimes the only pertinent information you will find is the name of the head of household. If you could not find your family on the federal census but located the head of household on a state census, you probably would be happy to at least discover that.

Some state censuses are more complete than others. Iowa and New York state censuses are among the most complete. Depending on what questions were asked, some of the things you may learn include:
  • birth place
  • mother’s maiden name
  • occupation
  • immigration
  • marital status
Researchers having difficulty finding an ancestor in 1870 and discover that a state census in 1869 exists has an additional record to check. In the photograph above, Eliza Maybin is listed as the head of household on the 1869 State Census for South Carolina. The other people in the household are not named. It could prove useful to compare the number of children listed in the household to the number that has actually been documented. It is possible to discover that other children existed that died or married off before the next enumeration.

See the following online publications to learn the things some specific state censuses reveal:
FamilySearch Books: Volume 1Volume 2Volume 3


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