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):

Closing Thoughts

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.

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