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U.S. Federal Census - Glitches

Here are some of the problems you will face using the US Federal Census in your genealogy research

  • There was no Federal census taken before 1790.
  • The earlier the census, the fewer questions were asked. The first one only asked 7 questions.
  • Parts of the census were lost or destroyed.
  • Many census takers were poorly trained or didn't take thier responsibility seriously.
  • Families were sometimes left off the census because they were away visiting relatives or they lived in multi-family dwellings and were overlooked.
  • Some census takers didn't follow directions and left off answers for some of the questions.
  • If adults were not home, sometimes answers were requested of small children or neighbors or the enumerator guessed the answers himself.
  • Incorrect answers were given due to poor memory or lack of understanding the question.
  • Poor quality of paper and/or ink, as well as handwriting.
  • The quality of microfilm can be poor, making copy too dark or too small or otherwise unreadable.
  • If the person lived in a large city, you must know which part of the city or the ward in which he lived in order to perform a search.

Back to US Census guide

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