How to search census records and what to look for

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Census records have long been hailed as one of the great repositories of information for family historians, featuring the names and other details of many people who lived in certain areas at certain times. If you're tracing your family history, the information included in census reports could be invaluable to your search - and the good news is, many of these documents are now available to access online.

Searching through census records used to be a difficult and demanding exercise, which involved travelling to a repository and manually searching through hefty volumes to find the names you're looking for. The process could be made even more difficult due to the census being preserved on microfilm, which would require much tedious scanning through filmed records to find further details and sometimes taking several days.

Fortunately for family researchers, census records are among the public documents chosen to be digitised and archived online by many governments, meaning it's now easier than ever to access certain records and even print the original pages from census reports, sometimes stretching back hundreds of years to the 17th century and earlier. The ability to search these records using keywords also eliminates the time-consuming task of browsing manually, and means historians are now freer to find indirect relatives in addition to direct ancestors, whereas before the process could be too time-consuming to make this worthwhile.

To access these records, you'll first need to sign up to a specialised genealogy site, which include such records in their databases. There are numerous such sites to choose from, some of which offer the ability to connect with other family historians to share your findings and experiences - something that can be of enormous benefit in opening up new avenues of research you may not have previously considered.

Generally speaking, the more you know about the ancestors you're looking for, the easier your search will be, as you'll have the option to search by fields such as their surname, given name and date of birth. If you do find the person you're looking for, the good news is that census records are often more detailed than would be expected, particularly the 1911 census , when details of marital status, occupation and the names of everyone living in the household were handwritten by the head of the house. This can expand your horizons even further, introducing a whole new set of family members you may not have known existed, and bringing your quest ever closer to completion.

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