Center for Archival Collections
Learning about Sources: Federal Records
What it is. Since 1790 the United States government has conducted a population census every ten years. Its purpose is to determine representation in Congress, but it is a useful tool for family historians. While the first census records (1790-1840) list only the head of household and the number of males and females of a given age, more recent census records include more information. Since 1850, each member of the household has been listed individually. Although not every census includes all the following information, records have been kept on individuals for their age, race, relationship to head of household, occupation, value of property, place of birth of the person and his/her father and mother, whether the person was naturalized (and when), whether they were literate, able to speak English, unemployed, handicapped physically or mentally, or attended school within the previous year.
The Census is usually organized geographically, down to the township level. Often, the route the Census-taker took to make his or her survey of the neighborhood can be retraced. The Census can provide a ten-year snapshot of a family. It can help to locate a family within a state, provide clues to other relatives (who often live nearby), trace the movement of the family throughout the country, and tell something of their economic or even social situation. The 1890 Census was lost to fire during the early years of the 20th century, and only a partial census of Civil War Veterans survives for that year. The population schedules are released to the public every 72 years. Thus, the most recently-released Census is for 1930; the 1940 Census will be available in about 2012.
How to use it. While the Center for Archival Collections holds a microfilm copy of the census for the entire state of Ohio from 1820 to 1930, by far the easiest way do research with the census is to use the fully-indexed version available online. CAC staff are happy to assist researchers in the use of this resource.
- Check the page before and the page after the entry to make sure all family members are listed
- Be flexible about spelling
- Be flexible about handwriting
- Remember that Census-takers sometimes made mistakes
- Remember that Census-takers sometimes were given incorrect information.
- Check out the neighborhood
What they are. Records relating to military service may include enlistments, bounties paid, commutations, enumerations of soldiers and sailors (a list of veterans), militia rolls, discharge records, pension applications, and burial and headstone records. Many records prior to World War I may be found through the National Archives. For service from World War I to today, the Field Personnel File (containing all military and health records) is stored at the:
National Personnel Records Center (Military)
9700 Page Boulevard
St. Louis, Missouri 63172
This Records Center is under the jurisdiction of the National Archives.
Counties also often maintained military service-related information. Prior to World War I, military units were often recruited from the states or local militias, and veterans' relief was distributed by the Soldiers' Relief Commission in each county. Veterans' burial records were also kept by the counties. Go to the Guide to Local Government Records, select the desired county, and search in the Board of County Commissioners, County Auditor, and Soldiers' Relief Commission records. See the entry on military records on the County Sources page for more information.
- Check both federal and local records for complete information on military service.
- Check a variety of spellings in indexes and records.
- Not all servicemen joined units that were recruited close to home--some served with relatives in other states or other parts of their home state.
- Many servicemen settled in areas near where they had been stationed.
- Aliens serving in the United States armed forces could often be naturalized without having to file a declaration of intention. Many were naturalized at the post where they served, rather than at home.
What it is. The Social Security Death Index is available online as well as on CD-Rom. It records the name, social security number, state of issue, birth and death dates, death state and last residence of those for whom death benefits were paid. The online version allows users to print out a form letter requesting a copy of the original application card.
- The index is useful only for those who received benefits since the creation of Social Security. Not everyone was eligible to receive benefits.
- The state of issue is not necessarily the state of birth, but may be the state in which the recipient was first employed.