Adventures in Family Tree Research Online — Tips for Doing Genealogy

 population.   African-Americans find it very difficult to penetrate the shroud of slavery to see their family trees prior to emancipation.     People with few generations of history here in the US may find it difficult or impossible to research history in the old country.   World War II and the holocaust wiped out a lot of people and a lot of records.   I was fortunate that so much of my family history was preserved.   Even the 1/4 of my family tree that is European Jewish in its origins was visible back to the 1860s, because my Jewish great grandfather emigrated in the 1880s and some records have been preserved within the family.  Others are not so fortunate.

When your 14-day free trial runs out on you can either pay and keep doing research, or cancel and still have access to the family tree you created during your free trial.    Others in your family could pick up where you left off with another 14-day free trial in their name. 

The Census Data

The US census data are amazing.  It’s in the constitution that there has to be a complete census every 10 years.  Now all those data are available online, up through about 1930 (I think the more recent data are held confidential, so we won’t see 1940 for a few more years, and have a long time to wait to see 1950 and thereafter).    I’m not talking about aggregate data here.   I mean the individual family entries.   On, you can see what each family told the census taker about the names, ages, occupations and place of birth for each member of the household.   The format of the census evolved over the decades.   Prior to 1850, it’s not very interesting:  All you see is the family surname and the number of males and females of each age category and race.   But from 1850 onward, each child is listed by name, and the questions get more detailed about occupation and place of birth.  Some years have value of property owned.   Generally they also show place of birth of each person’s father and mother.   I really enjoyed tracing the movements of one branch of my family, the Pearsons.   My Pearson ancestor 4 generations back married a Longley.   They moved to Alabama in the 1850s.  I could pin down just about when by looking at the birthplaces and ages of the different children in the family.  The 6-year old in the 1860 census was born in Tennessee, but the younger children were born in Alabama.    Then, I found them back in Tennessee in 1870, and no children had been born from 1860 to 1866 — no doubt because daddy was in the war.   From there they went to Missouri and had more kids, finally winding up in Texas.  All this could be seen through the census.    I also learned through the census that my great grandfather “Doc” Pearson was really named “Doctor.”    He wasn’t a medical man.   He was a farmer and a preacher.   “Doctor” was just his name, and he wasn’t the first in the Pearson line to be named that.

A page in the 1870 census the author consulted on

In that 1860 census where I found the Pearsons newly settled in Alabama, I looked around a bit at the names above them and below them on the same page.   I found more Pearsons and more Longleys.   I even found an elderly Pearson in a Longley household, apparently a mother-in-law.  This told me the Pearsons and Longleys had intermarried at least twice, and several nuclear families had emigrated together to Alabama.  (Again using the trick of checking the ages and birthplaces of the kids in the other Pearson and Longley households, I could see they were all recent arrivals).  Suddenly a whole story was unfolding, inferred from the census data.

The old census data are written out in longhand, of course.  But someone has transcribed all the entries so that computers can search the data.   There are, of course, many transcription errors due to hard-to-read handwriting.   When you do searches on, the computer will offer you many “hits”  (search results) that may not be the person you are looking for.  The good thing about that is it may offer you a hit that IS the person you are looking for, partially masked by a transcription error.  When that happens, there is a feature on Ancestry that allows you to submit a correction that will help the next person to find the data more readily.   You can see not only the information as transcribed, but also an image of the actual old longhand document, exactly as it was scratched onto the paper sitting at your great great great grandmother’s kitchen table in a log cabin somewhere 100 or 150 years ago!

It’s the same for things like passport applications and marriage licenses.    The original documents were filled out in longhand

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