Now What: Finding People in Pre-1850 Censuses

By Sharon DeBartolo Carmack Premium

Q. I’m seeking the parents and siblings of my great-greatgrandfather James W. Crutchfield, born July 6,1811, in Orange County, NC. Because the census didn’t list anyone but the head of household until 1850, I’ve been unable to determine who my great-great-grandfather’s parents and siblings were. What resources can I consult to find them?

A. Many researchers have problems hurdling the pre-1850 barrier, when censuses name only the heads of household and provide statistical information about the other household members. But all is not lost — first, check published family histories and online sources, such as databases and online queries, to see if someone has already researched your ancestor. Type his name into a search engine such as <>, and see what comes up. Remember: Information you find in a published family history or online may be inaccurate, so you need to follow up with original sources.

If that route leaves you at a dead end, dive into original records — such as land, tax, probate and court records — for your ancestor and other people with the same surname. Since your ancestor would have been about 29 in the 1840 census, see if he’s listed as a head of household — and note others in that area who have the same surname. For example, list any male Crutchfields in the 1840 census who are the right age to be your ancestor’s father. And note other Crutchfield men who were close in age to your ancestor — they could be your ancestor’s brothers. Then, explore these possible relationships using other records.

In 1830, your ancestor would have been about 19. Check that census: Is there a Crutchfield household in Orange County, NC, with a young man of that age? If so, research the head of that household to determine whether he’s your ancestor’s father.

Finding parents and siblings of a pre-1850 ancestor is challenging: You have to look for potential family connections — people with the same surname in the same place — and explore original records to determine whether they are actually related to your ancestor.

From the October 2003 issue of Family Tree Magazine.