Tracing a Family Through Time in the U.S. Federal Census – 1880-1850

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When you trace an ancestor’s family over time through the U.S. Federal Census, you get a more complete picture of the family structure. You also find many other clues that lead you to more records to research.

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What is the Federal Census?

The U.S. Government began taking a census of each person living within its boundaries every 10 years starting in 1790. The census helps the government determine the population of each state, as well as other statistics used for a variety of government purposes. In this case, we are covering the genealogy clues available in the population portion of the census schedules.

Tracing a Family Through Time

Because the census was taken every 10 years, we can trace a family back through time by finding them in each census year in which they lived. We learn a lot about our ancestors in this way including information about their family members and where they lived over time. We also learn details like where they were born and an approximate year of birth.

The Gibson Family 1880-1850

In our case study, we will trace the William R. Gibson family of Hart County, Kentucky, from 1880 back through 1850.

In the 1880 census, William R and Lucinda Gibson were enumerated in Munfordville, Hart County, Kentucky, with three children in their household.

Tracing them back to the 1870 census, we find William and Lucinda enumerated in Priceville, still in Hart County, Kentucky. In the household are five children. The details that are different in this census than in the 1880 census are highlighted in red.

During the 1860 census, William and Lucinda are enumerated in the Bacon Creek Post Office are of Hart County, Kentucky. This year, they had four children in the household.

William and Lucinda were enumerated not in Hart County, but two counties over in Taylor County, Kentucky, in the 1850 census. The couple had 4 children in their household, three of which were different children listed in the 1860 census.

The Overall Picture

By adding up the clues we found in each census year, we are able to paint a more complete picture of the family of William and Lucinda Gibson. There compiled clue web from the censuses is spread over two slides (because they had so many children) as follows:

All together, William and Lucinda had nine children and lived in Taylor and Hart Counties, Kentucky between 1850-1880. The clues we found by tracing them through time will lead us to many other records that will help us prove the facts about this family.

Watch the video for all the details.

Which family have you learned the most about by tracing them back through the censuses?

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