One of the first things I do with every family line is to (try to) locate them 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 created with Microsoft Word. They are easy to make using the “Insert Table” command. There are blank forms available online, but I prefer to create one tailored to 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.
  • Sometimes I color code family lines for easier visual tracking.
  • After the census tracker table, I often types any vital records I have found for the family shown. This way I don’t have to shuffle through lots of papers to find critical information about a couple or family.

Census trackers aid my research in two primary ways:

  • I can throw out the physical print-outs of census records. I digitally store the census images on my computer for later viewing. This means I have less clutter and am better able to focus on newer research problems.
  • I can better analyze the census information. The tracker allows me to see patterns or information gaps. It’s more obvious when I am missing a census year and I can see migration patterns of family members.

Additionally, I include state census records when available and you may also want to include those found in the non-population censes records as well.

Example Census Tracker

Below you’ll find my census tracker for the family of Green Barnes, of Hardin County, Tennessee (click to enlarge):

Closing Thoughts

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. 

Try creating a census tracker. I will bet a small stash of cash you’ll find it helpful to your research!


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