Don't stress out about finding ancestors in early, head-of-household-only censuses. These tricks will help you transform those tick marks into ancestral families.
Most genealogists, working backward through family lines, tense up when they reach the 1840 census. Brows crease. Heartbeats quicken. Palms feel clammy. Why? Because most names have disappeared. On this and earlier federal enumerations, entire households are reduced to tick marks or numbers in columns labeled with age ranges, sex and race (free white, slave or free “colored”). Only the head of the household—usually a man—is referred to by name. This, of course, severely hampers your ability to pick your family out of the hundreds or thousands of similarly named folks: There are no names and clearly indicated ages of a wife or children to confirm that this, indeed, is the John Henderson household you’ve been looking for. And if it’s the wife or a child you’re trying to locate—well, you’ve got a hill to climb.
What’s a genealogist to do? First, take a deep breath and let it out. Slowly. Sure, those pre-1850 censuses are more difficult to figure out than their later counterparts, but they’re far from impossible. With our 10 strategies, you can milk those tick marks to find your ancestors in early censuses.