Create Your Own Personal Census Substitute.
A Do-it-yourself Project For Genealogists.
The foundation of genealogy research is built on official government census records. U.S. census records were originally created to determine the collection of taxes and the appropriation of seats in the House of Representatives, but a census record also includes a lot of valuable information for researching family history. Regrettably, U.S. census records are not usually available to the public for many years after they are first created. The official 1940 Population Census data is the next U.S. census scheduled for release. In the meantime, Ancestry.com, a website devoted to family research, has a limited collection of City Directories that they term 1940 Census Substitutes on their site. City Directories are poor substitutes for an official census record.
The delay in opening census records to the public leaves a big gap in family research. But you can help future genealogists in your family fill in that hole by creating your own personal census substitutes. A do-it-yourself census record can flesh out the bare facts and explain some of what otherwise may appear as mysteries in your life for your descendents.
The most wonderful find of my family research was discovering among my mother-in-law's important papers after her death a single sheet of paper, yellow with age, handwritten by her grandfather who died in 1916; it listed vital statistics for his family. It was a treasure of information that revealed the family had lived in South Carolina for about 75 years before moving to New Jersey in the early 1800s. In addition, he also gave his grand-mother's maiden name. This was information that I may never have learned without that valuable sheet of paper.
The information gathered on a U.S. census varies according to the needs of the government at the time. A bare bones census record will include the home location, the census date, the names, ages, sex, marital status and birthplace of each person who lived in that location on that date. In addition, you find the birthplace for the parents of each person, and the relationship of each person to the head of the household.
A census record is a snapshot of you on one particular day once every ten years during your life. According to the census records for my lifetime I have always lived in the same state, however, between censuses I have lived in five other states. So for any future genealogy research on my family, records will be found in six different states.
Begin your own census substitute for the census year following your birth, if you were born in 1955 then begin with 1960. Start recording the basic information and when you have completed your missing years then begin to expand on that data. For example, instead of just listing age you could add the birth date; instead of listing a parent's birthplace as a country or state you can add the county also.
Did your grandparents or cousins live with you? Include all the people who you know lived in your household at the time with as much of their information as you know, particularly their relationship to the head of the household. I also give the maiden name of all married females which is something you'll not find normally in census records.
Rather than create a blank census record from scratch I made photocopies of a blank 1930 census that I downloaded from the internet and changed the year at the top of the form. For the enumeration date I used "Spring" since April 1 was usually considered "Census Day". Use the back of the form to explain any missing or confusing information on the form.
I divided the back of each of my forms into 10 sections and labeled each section with the years between censuses. For each year, I listed my address if it had changed from the previous year, birth of a child, real estate purchased and sold, and whatever other data that I thought would be useful in the future. You could locate old tax records and list your gross income for the year and the income and property taxes you paid. You add as much or as little information as you wish. Do you live in one state and have a get-away home in another? Have you done any travel that required a passport? Ever been involved in a lawsuit? Leave enough crumbs behind that a future genealogist can locate all the public records generated during your lifetime.
Clearly mark the forms with the current date so that in the future no one will mistake the form and think it is an official record. I used a #2 lead pencil, because it won't fade as many inks will, and I can make corrections. Once completed, insert the pages in acid-proof sheet protectors and staple the pages together. Then file your census substitute booklet away with your important papers.
Clearly you can paint this snapshot of your life with as broad a brush as you wish.