Questions Lead to Answers

August 12, 2014

Have you ever taken a close look at some of the questions the enumerator asked when taking the census? Some questions don’t seem very useful to a genealogist. (Yes, I do realize that censuses were not taken just so I could use them for genealogy.) One particular question caught my attention one day and became a way to track an elusive family. I found my ancestor on the 1855 New York State Census. Looking at the original image, I noticed writing in a column next to his mother and brother that others didn’t have. I zoomed in and saw that both of them were deaf. The family had come from France a few years earlier. Coming to a new country and not knowing the language would have been challenging, but not being able to hear or speak would have led to further isolation. It wasn’t until later when I couldn’t locate that particular family in other census years that I recognized that the information about him being deaf could be useful to my research. I realized that a question about deafness not only appeared on state censuses in New York from 1855 to 1875, but also on federal censuses from 1850 to 1880. I was able to find my ancestor in other years, so I knew I had the correct person because it was noted that he was deaf. The best part was that he was living with different relatives each time, and I was able to tie his sibling together through him.

If you find someone in your family that was deaf and lived during the late nineteenth century, some additional census resources are available in Ancestry Library Edition, one of Mid-Continent Public Library’s databases. In 1880, a non-population schedule for “Dependent, Defective, and Delinquent Classes” was included to collection social statistics. A supplement to the 1890 Census, entitled U.S. Special Census on Deaf Family Marriages and Hearing Relatives, was conducted from 1888 to 1895. This database gives helpful genealogy information such as a date and location of marriage, as well as names of parents.

If you are curious about what questions were asked for each of the census years, you can find them on the U.S. Census Bureau’s website. If you want to learn more about census records and how to apply that information to genealogy research, sign up for a Beginning Census Records class at the Midwest Genealogy Center.

For me, one question led to lots of answers. What census questions have led you to more answers?

Jolene C.
Midwest Genealogy Center



What a fantastic find! Way to pay attention to those little marks that are so often indecipherable.

Excellent info, Jolene!

Excellent info, Jolene! Thanks!

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