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Census Records << Teacher's Guide <<

| Objectives | Teacher | Main Idea No.1 | Main Idea No.2 |
| Main Idea No.3 | Information | Vocabulary |
| Printable Version |

OBJECTIVES

IN THIS LESSON, YOU'LL

TEACHER

This lesson includes opportunities for class discussion and a video presentation. Vocabulary words are included at the end of the lesson, though not specifically brought into the lesson in the form of an assignment. Resulting measurable assignments include ancestor or student surnames written in Soundex code, a class census and a comparative writing sample. While the lesson's main ideas logically build on one another, the activities and assignments suggested can be adapted or omitted according to your needs.

MAIN IDEA NO.1

COME TO YOUR CENSUS

In 1790, Congress decided it was a good idea to count the citizens of the U.S. The Government thought a census would provide information that would help them govern the country.

At first the government wanted to count men so that if war were declared, they would know how many men were eligible to serve in the military. Later, the questions on the census changed, depending on the needs of the government at the time.

The census is taken by a person called a census taker or enumerator. In the past, each enumerator went from house to house, counting all the people living in a certain neighborhood and asking them questions such as, "What is your occupation?" or "Where were you born?".

VIEW ANCESTORS EPISODE 208: CENSUS RECORDS

Episode Description

Meet Darius Gray. As an African American, he doubted he would find records documenting his family story. Relive his dramatic breakthrough as he discovers his ancestors in the 1880 census and then documents his family history back to the Revolutionary War era. Experts review the fascinating history of the census with specific instruction on how these important records can pinpoint your ancestor's place in American history.

Questions for Discussion

  • What year did the census begin?
  • What kind of information can generally be found in the census?
  • Why are census records so helpful to family historians?
  • What was the job of an enumerator?
  • What is the most recent census available and why?
  • What are the pitfalls of using the census?
  • The 1890 census is unavailable. Why?

MAIN IDEA NO.2

PROVE IT WITH RECORDS

When first using the census, it's a good idea to start with the most recent census in which the ancestors you're looking for might appear.

Censuses are filed by state within each census year. Within each state, the films are arranged by the Soundex code number (explained in main idea #3) and then by a given name of the head of the household, who could be male or female. This is a good time to have your family group chart (link) nearby. If you find your ancestor's brother on a particular street, your ancestor may be living nearby.

MAIN IDEA NO.3

THE SOUNDEX

Enumerators were told to go through a neighborhood street by street. They tended to write the names of people as they heard them, not necessarily as the person would have spelled his or her own name. Because of this, the spelling of one name can vary considerably. How do you search for "Smith" when it might be listed as "Smyth," "Smithe" or "Smythe"? Add to this the fact that information on the censuses is still organized just as it was written - house by house, street by street - not in alphabetical order by family - and you'll get an idea of why censuses can be time-consuming to search.

While the information isn't alphabetized, an index has been created to help family history detectives get a little closer to the page on which your ancestor's household might be listed. This index also takes into account the variations in spelling that might have occurred.

This unique index is called the Soundex. It allows variations on the same name to still be indexed together because each variation will code the same. With the code, you can then know where in the census to search.

However, the Soundex has its limitations. It doesn't begin until 1880 and only lists households containing young children. But for many thousands of families, it is a valuable research tool.

Here's how to convert surnames into Soundex code. Let's use the name "Jones" as an example.

The first letter of the surname is always the first letter being coded.

So for Jones, the first letter would be "J,"

After the first letter, vowels (a, e, i, o, and u) and the consonants h, w, and y are ignored.

ignore the "o" and "e,"

After the first letter of the surname, the next three significant letters (other than the letters mentioned above) are coded according to the chart below.

Whenever two letters with the same code appear side by side in a surname, only the first letter is coded. The second is ignored.

  1. b,f,p,v
  2. c,g,j,k,q,s,x,z
  3. d,t
  4. l
  5. m,n
  6. r
Add to the "J" a number 5 (for "n"), and 2 (for "s"),

If there are not enough consonants in the name to form the code, add zeros until there are three digits.

Add a zero since there are no more letters to code.
"Jones" is J-520
"Wada" is W-300

If a name contains more letters than are needed to have a Soundex code of three digits, the remaining letters are ignored.

VanDuessen is V-532 (ignore the vowels, the second s & n)

With this code, you can find the Census pages containing these surnames.

ACTIVITY

Figure out what the Soundex code is for "Smith," "Smyth," "Smithe," or "Smythe." Next, figure out your own or your ancestor's surname.

GO ANOTHER STEP

Your class has a seating arrangement. Ask a few volunteers to divide up the class "geographically" into "neighborhoods" and create a class census. Decide together what information you agree will be the most important to include? How do you account for students that might be absent?

INFORMATION

WHAT HAVE I LEARNED AND . . .
Censuses are an excellent tool for ancestor detectives because they identify ancestors living in a specific area at a specific place in time. Conducted every ten years since 1790, these documents trace families through the growth and westward expansion of the country. They were even conducted during war years, a time period that often tore families apart.

. . . WHAT'S NEXT?
The Census can help you locate ancestors who may have fought in a war. If you find that you have a soldier ancestor, well, then you have a chance to learn about that ancestor's service and see the conflict through the eyes of someone who actually witnessed it.

VOCABULARY

Census: A count of the population in a specific place, such as a state or country; a record made of the count.

Enumerator: A person who counts. In the case of the census, it is the position filled by a person counting the residents of a particular assigned area.

Soundex: An index for the census that is coded by the way a name sounds in addition to its actual spelling.

 
 
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-Teacher's Guide-

Download PDF Version
of the Teacher's Guide

Episode Links

Introduction
Episode 201
Episode 202
Episode 203
Episode 204
Episode 205
Episode 206
Episode 207
Episode 208
Episode 209
Episode 210
Episode 211
Episode 212
Episode 213

 

     
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