One of the first things I do with every family I research is to try to locate the family in every census during their lifetime. As most researchers know, depending upon the time and place, this is much easier said than done.
I “track” the families using census trackers which I have created in Microsoft Word. This is easily accomplished using the “Insert Table” function. However, there are blank forms available online, but I prefer to make one that meets my needs.
The Value of a Census Tracker
There is so much value in using census trackers. These are the things I include in my tracker and how it helps my research:
- **I include all of the information needed to properly cite each census record (see the second image below).
- **Notes mention occupations, literacy, landownership, address, marital information, anomalies, etc.
- **Each family is color-coded to help visually track each one.
- **It allows me to put the actual copies of census records away. I have less clutter in my binders and I digitally store the census images in my files if I need to view them later.
- **After the census tracker, I list my search for birth, death, marriage, land or other records suggested by the census. Again, this way I don’t have to shuffle through lots of papers to find critical information about a couple or family.
- **The tracker allows me to see patterns or information gaps. I can easily see when I a missing a census for a person and I can see things like migration patterns of family members.
Example Census Tracker
Below you’ll find my census tracker for the family of Green Barnes, of Hardin County, Tennessee (click to enlarge):
Try this process on one family line if you have not before. I have been able to find missing people and entire family lines using this as a tool.
Take a look around the Internet. There are other tools that genealogists have devised to help interpret these records. For example, this site has a creative tool for analyzing pre-1850 census records.
As a note, in this example I show only the U.S. population censuses in my tracker. You may want to consider including any state censuses or any non-population schedule (such as the agricultural) that your ancestors appear in.
I am an engineer by day, but my true passion lies in genealogy. I have been a researcher, writer, lecturer and teacher for over twenty years. This blog is where I share family history methods, resources, tips and advice, with an emphasis on slave research, slavery and its aftermath. This lifelong quest has helped me to better know my family’s past. I’ve taken back– reclaimed– some of that lost memory, especially that of my enslaved ancestors. I hope you’ll sign up to receive my posts—if you do, you’ll get a free PDF with some of my favorite tips! And please do share posts that interest you.
You can insert a hyperlink in your table to your digitized record that is saved on your computer.
Yes, that’s also a good idea. I tend to change my database around periodically, so linking to images for me isn’t optimal, but for those whose databases are more stable, I love this.
Thanks for the suggestion. I use a spreadsheet to record the data from each individual census record but I haven’t tried compiling the data from different records to the same spreadsheet.
Dawnn, I’m glad you found this post helpful. I’m constantly searching for better ways to analyze the data I already have.