A Step-by-Step Guide to the 1900 Census

By George G. Morgan Premium
A Family Tree Magazine “Document Detective” feature.
US censuses are family historians’ No. 1 go-to records—they’re typically the first source a genealogist turns to when researching a new family. And 20th-century population schedules contain more information and provide more clues to finding other records than previous enumerations.
The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has microfilmed all existing census schedules from 1790 through 1930. and HeritageQuest Online have digitized these population schedules; FamilySearch and Footnote are in the process of digitizing and indexing them—some years are available now.
The 1900 population schedule is unique in that it captures details about the month and year of birth for each individual. It also records the number of children each woman had birthed and the number of her children still living. For the first time, census takers asked for immigration year and naturalization information. Other new details include whether a person could speak English, street name, house number and home ownership. This sample population schedule shows examples of each of these pieces of data. (You can see the exact wording of each column by downloading our 1900 census worksheet.)
Take time to read every line of your ancestor’s population schedule carefully and consider what each detail tells you about the residents of the household. Taken together, the data provide insight into the group and should point you to other records promising more genealogical evidence.
(Click the image to open an enlarged version in a new window.)
1. Street name and house number provide a person’s precise location, helpful for finding property records and identifying schools and places of worship.
2. Relationship information was more concise than in previous censuses because the enumerators had better instructions.
3. Month and year of birth are provided, along with the age at the last birthday.
4. Marital status is listed, along with number of years married. This can help you narrow year of marriage and, using the Nativity columns, the possible marriage location.
5. Women responded to the number of children they’d had and the number still living in 1900. This can help you verify family relationships.
6. The birthplace of each individual and his or her parents provide strong clues to nationality. Respondents were asked for the name of the state or territory of the United States or for the foreign country.
7. The citizenship columns provide excellent information for tracing immigrant ancestors. Year of immigration to the United States is listed for all foreign-born individuals. The number of years in the United States should match the year of immigration.

8. Na in the naturalization column denotes a foreign-born person who was naturalized. A Pa indicates final naturalization paperwork was in process. Non-citizens were noted with an A for Alien. But enumerators often left this column blank.
9. The occupation columns describe employment for each person age 10 and older, and tell how many months in the past year the person was unemployed.
10. Educational details include how many months in the past year a person attended school, and whether he or she could read, write and speak English. Literacy is an indicator of the household’s financial conditions.

11. Home ownership columns note whether the property was owned or rented. If your kin reported owning, you’ll learn whether they had a mortgage.
12. The schedule indicated whether the property was a home or a farm. For farms, the enumerator completed a separate agricultural schedule and filled in the schedule’s number in the last column. Locate any agricultural schedule noted, as it will provide insight into the operations and output of the farm. These schedules are available on microfilm through the National Archives and the Family History Library and Family History Centers.
Get help finding and using censuses, court records, birth records and 12 other key genealogical records with the guides in Family Tree Magazine‘s Family Tree Essentials CD.

From the November 2010 issue of Family Tree Magazine.

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