Tracing a Family Through Time in the U.S. Federal Census – 1940-1900

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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.

Watch This Episode, or Continue Reading Below

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. These later censuses even include details about immigration and naturalization, education and many more clues!

The Wiltbank Family 1940-1900

In our case study, we will trace John C. Wiltbank family of Apache County, Arizona, from 1940 back through 1900.

In the 1940 census, John C. Wiltbank was enumerated with his wife Afton in Apache County, Arizona, with six children in their household.

Tracing him back to the 1930 census, we find John and Afton enumerated in McNary, still in Apache County, Arizona. In the household are four children. The details that are different in this census than in the 1940 census are highlighted in red.

During the 1920 census, John and Afton are enumerated in the Greer District area of Apache County, Arizona. This year, they were the only persons enumerated in the household.

Afton was only 17 in this census year, so in order to trace John C. Wiltbank back 10 years, we will not be looking for him with his wife. Instead, we will look for him on his own, or with his parental family.

We find John C. Wiltbank in the 1910 census living in his parental home in St. Johns, Apache County, Arizona. John’s father was Ellis W. Wiltbank and his mother was Hannah. The couple have four children in their household.

In 1900, John C. was also found in the household of his parents, Ellis and Hannah Wiltbank, enumerated in Greer, Apache, Arizona Territory. The couple have seven children in their household in this year.

The Overall Picture

By tracing John C. Wiltbank back through the censuses over 50 years, we learn about his family with his wife, Afton, and his parental family and siblings. Both generations lived in the small towns and farming community of Apache County, Arizona.

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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