Researching Census Records On Microfilm & Paper

Believe it or not, twenty years ago microfilm or binders of paper were the only way to research census records.  To say that today, we are spoiled by the internet and indexed searches is putting it mildly.  As we discussed in the prior two posts (Researching Census Records in GenDetective and Census Reports In GenDetective 2) the majority of the census reports in GenDetective are designed to work with an indexed census (think,,, etc).  So what changes if you are researching on microfilm or a book without an index?

Consider a state census like the 1875 New Jersey census.  While I couldn’t locate a population total for New Jersey in 1875, the according to the state in 1870 NJ had a population of 906,096 people and by 1880 the population had grown to 1,131,116 people.  Talk about a needle in a haystack.  Without those computerized indexes there are a lot of microfilm names to look through.  So how can you cut down the work (and hopefully avoid tired eyes)?

Location history for people missing selected cenus

Location history for people missing selected census

Identify the individuals you are looking for.  In the Reports by Task tab select:

  1. What information should I research?
  2. Missing census records,
  3. The census I want to search is unindexed
  4. I need a full location history for people missing this census 

This report provides a listing of the people who are missing the unindexed census.  This report provides a listing of every place (or location) where you have recorded an event for each person.  Using the information listed in this report you should be able to get an idea of the municipalities you want to search for this family; page by page.  If you don’t find the family living in the most likely community, you at least have a list of the other communities you may want to search.  Obviously, searching the entire list of approximately 1 million names isn’t feasible.

Report for research unindexed census records

Report for research unindexed census records

While this report works well when looking for someone who lives in the country (a small town or township), it doesn’t help with your city dweller.   If you recorded in your family tree any street addresses where your ancestors resided, then GenDetective has a report that may be able to help you.  Run the Who is missing this unindexed census? report, which includes source citations, addresses and notes.  In my family tree not every event has an address, most are only recorded at the municipality level.  Regardless of where you enter the address, in a field for this purpose (RootsMagic) or use the notes field (other family tree products), GenDetective will extract the information and display it for you in this report.

The report isn’t a magic pill, however, it does save you from looking at all of the events for any address you may have recorded.  The next step is to find the neighborhood and start looking for the right area.  Don’t forget house numbers may have changed between now and the time period you are researching.

Good luck with your census research.



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