• Census records

    Census records are the backbone of genealogical research. They are available for research on microfilm from their beginning in 1790 up through 1920 at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., or at any of their regional field branches located in Anchorage, Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Fort Worth, Kansas City, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Seattle. If you do not live near one of these cities, most of them are also available through the Mormon Family History branch libraries or can be obtained on interlibrary loan from the National Archives Microfilm Rental Program through your local public library.

    If you are looking for material on the Internet: Census listings online
    Census records have been described as the "backbone" of genealogical research because at times it would be almost impossible to trace our ancestors from one state to another without them. These always give the family's or person's place of residence at the time the census was taken, thus defining the counties and/or towns where your relatives lived. Other valuable information contained in later census records includes family names, ages, and relationships to the heads of households, birthplaces, occupation, education, marital status, home ownership, and immigration and naturalization data.

    The first census in the U.S. was taken in 1790 and has been taken every ten years since. Most of the immigrants from Finland came late in the eighteen hundreds or after the turn of this century. Unfortunately, almost all of the 1890 census records were burned, except for the Civil War Veterans schedules for those states in the last half of the alphabet beginning with Kentucky. But the 1900, 1910 and 1920 censuses are available and contain much more valuable information for researchers than earlier censuses did. All of the 1900 and 1920 and part of the 1910 censuses are "Soundexed". This means that the Head of Household surnames are indexed by a phonetic coding system, which groups surnames together according to the way they sound rather than in strict alpha-betical order. This is not as difficult as it sounds because the code is immediately provided to you at your library or archives when you start your search, and there are always archivists, librarians, or volunteers to help you. Furthermore, it makes it easier for you to look for spelling variations in your family names. Often these surnames were spelled according to how they sounded to the censustaker. For example, to look fo my maiden name "Greif" in the census, I must also look for "Grief", "Grife", "Griff", etc., and these fortunately are all "Soundexed" in the same grouping.

    Of special importance in the 1900 census is that it gives the year of immigration of family members, the number of years each has been in the US and whether or not naturalized. This was the first census in which this kind of information was obtained.

    The 1910 census is not completely Soundexed, so it can be a little more difficult to use, particularly in large cities, unless you know at least the approximate address where your family lived. This census also gives the year of immigration, whether or not naturalized, and adds information about veteran's status. It also lists language spoken if not English. Valerie Agresta has sent us some fascinating information from the 1910 St. Louis County, Minnesota, census. Inhabitants, especially in Chisholm, were shown to be "Fin Swede" as distinct and different from those listed as "Swede" or "Finn". Unfortunately, this was not true in all state censuses, but perhaps you know of some others where this was given.

    The completely soundexed 1920 census asks the year of naturalization and adds a question about the "mother tongue" of each member of the family and his/her parents. For foreign born, it also gives the city or province in addition to the country of birth. However, it does not ask questions contained in the 1900 and 1910 censuses concerning length of marriage, number of children born or living, or about veteran's status.

    A little-known special service available to genealogists is provided by the Bureau of the Census through their Age Search Office, P.O. Box 1545, Jeffersonville, IN 47131. For a $25.00 fee anyone can request a personal search of the census records from 1930 through 1990, which are still closed to the public because under public law censuses must be held confidential for 72 years to protect the right to privacy of the people named in them.

    The primary purpose of this service is to help people applying for Social Security benefits to provide needed evidence of their age, especially if they don't have a birth certificate. But it can also be used for "genealogical research", and this purpose should be indicated on the application form, which you can obtain from your local Social Security office or by writing to the above address. It is Form BC-600, Application for Search of Census Records.

    The person you are seeking must be yourself or a direct ancestor, for whom you must provide some proof of death. The Age Search Office will search through any two census records for the person you request, for example the 1930 and 1940 records. If they find the person you are seeking, they will send you an official, certifified document giving your ancestor's name, age, place of birth, citizenship, the name of the head of the household and your ancestor's relationship to same. For an additional $2.00 per person sought, you can request that you be sent information regarding other family members. If you want the full line of information printed at the top of the census schedule, you must send an additional $6.00.

    Many state censuses are also available for research. These were usually taken in the off-years between federal censuses; for example, 1895 or 1905. Often their information is as valuable as that on the federal census. The Mormon Family History Library has microfilms for many of these from about 1800 up to 1925. They can also usually be obtained through your particular state's archives.

    Suzanne Greif Alskog, Swedish Finn Historical Society
    June Pelo