Using the Historical Census Browser

Using the Historical Census Browser

Federal census records are so rich with personal details—names, ages, birthplaces, relationships—it’s easy to overlook another genealogical use for all that data. Censuses also can tell you a lot about the community and society your ancestors lived in: whether your rural kin had easy access to schools...

Federal census records are so rich with personal details—names, ages, birthplaces, relationships—it’s easy to overlook another genealogical use for all that data. Censuses also can tell you a lot about the community and society your ancestors lived in: whether your rural kin had easy access to schools, for example, or how many free African-Americans lived in your family’s hometown in 1840.

The University of Virginia’s Historical Census Browser <mapserver.lib.virginia.edu> lets you slice and dice population data from the 1790 to 1960 censuses to create just that sort of statistical snapshot. Any information a census collected is up for dissection:You can compare different counties’ and states’ demographics during a particular census year, see how a place changed over time, and even view census data on a map. Follow these seven steps to get started with this flexible, informative—and free—online tool.
 
 

1. The home page offers three options: You can choose a census year, select a type of data (such as population or education and literacy) to view statistics over a range of census years, or create a map of select data. We’ll start by looking for areas with females age 5 to 18 in the 1870 census. On the home page, click 1870.

2. The next screen shows the categories of data you can explore. Available categories vary for each census year, depending on the data collected in that census. For 1870, our choices include:
  • General Population
  • Ethnicity/Race/Place of Birth
  • Education and Literacy
  • Agriculture
  • Economy/Manufacturing/Employment
  • Churches and Religion
You can select categories in multiple menus, and Control- or Command-click to select multiple categories in one menu. Under General Population, select “females 5 to 18 years of age.” Click Submit Query at the bottom of the page.
 
 
 

3. The resulting chart shows you the number of 5- to 18-year-old girls living in each state and territory. Select a state, then scroll down and hit the Retrieve County-Level Data button to see a county-by-county breakdown. (Note: Checking All States will generate county-level totals for the entire United States.)

4. At the bottom of both the state- and county-data pages, you’ll see a table with additional options. This allows you to add and remove categories from your chart for a side-by-side comparison. You could add 5- to 18-year-old males to see that the youth population skewed slightly more male in 1870.
 
5. Next, we’ll move on to a more complex search: finding areas with ethnic communities. Click the Historical Census Browser heading to return to the home page, then click the link to examine Ethnicity/Race/Place of Birth topics over time.
 
On the next page, you can choose the time periods over which you’d like to see data, then select a group (such as “foreign-born white males”), ethnicity or nationality. Let’s opt for persons born in Hungary as reported in the 1900 through 1930 censuses. Click Submit Query.
 
 

6. The site generates a chart listing the number of Hungarians in each state for all specified census years.

7. Click Map It! next to any census year to display the data visually. Now you can easily see that Ohio, New York and Pennsylvania had the largest Hungarian populations in 1920. Check boxes and refresh the map to add features such as waterways and cities. Because the maps open in a new window, it’s easy to return to your chart to generate a comparison map of another census year.
 
 
 
8. Back in your chart, click the box next to a state—we’ll choose Ohio—then click Retrieve County-Level Data at the bottom of the page to see how many Hungarians live in each county.
 
 

9. Again, click Map It! next to any census year to generate a state map of the data. In 1920, you can see the heaviest concentration of Ohio Hungarians lived in two northeastern counties. If you can’t find your Hungarian ancestors in the early 1900s, Cleveland would be a good place to begin looking.

Stats to Search For

Select a census year and a national background to see where people with your ethnic roots settled.
For the 1850 to 1870 censuses, choose the Churches & Religions category to locate pockets of particular denominations.

Pick Agriculture to map farms by size, value and in some years, ethnic background (“Total Farms of Negroes and Other Non-Whites” for 1910 to 1950, for instance).

See which states had the highest unemployment rates at the start of the Great Depression under 1930>Economy/Manufacturing/Employment.
 
 From the May/June 2012 issue of Family Tree Magazine

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