Census Records Useful in Tracing Your Roots

Question: I am interested in tracing my family's roots, but everyone who could help me is deceased. I'm not even sure of the exact dates (1855-1885) when my grandfathers came to America.

Does the famous genealogy library in Salt Lake City have printed copies of the passenger lists? Can you only view them there? Where does one begin researching?

Answer: Dates provided by family members for genealogical purposes are not always accurate. The basic information you need about your families can be obtained from U.S. federal censuses (on microfilm) taken in 1910 and 1900.

The 1900 census also is Soundexed (indexed by the sound of surnames). All you need to know to get started is where (the state) your families lived in 1900 and their names. Learn to use the Soundexing system and be sure to check both the 1900 Soundex and the actual enumeration microfilms.

There is a regional Federal Archives and Records Center (FARC) in San Bruno, Calif. It has all U.S. Census films from 1790 to 1910 (excluding 1890, most of which was destroyed). The census was taken every 10 years, in years ending in zero.

Microfilmed census rolls also can be obtained through all LDS (Mormon) branch genealogical libraries. Many public libraries also have some microfilmed census records. Their collections often include printed census indexes, which are compiled by various states for the years 1790 through 1850.

Do your census research first before tackling any passenger lists. The 1900 census often reveals the year immigrant ancestors came to America. You'll need these dates because, although many ship passenger lists are available on microfilm (and available through interlibrary loan from Salt Lake City's library to an LDS (Mormon) branch genealogical library near you), most are not indexed. They are in chronological order. You also need to know through which port your ancestors entered America.

Many 17th-, 18th- and 19th-Century ship passenger lists are being printed by genealogical book publishers to the delight of researchers still hunting their immigrant ancestors.

Q: I'm a black American, and I realize I may not be able to trace my family back beyond the Civil War, but I'd like to try. Are birth, death and marriage records of blacks available in Southern records?

A: Yes, but few of these marriage records have been compiled or published. Birth and death records before early 1900s will not be found for anyone in Southern states. Use 1870-1910 censuses to obtain this information.

Check county courthouse records for manumissions, deeds, probate, wills and marriages back to 1865. Don't forget federal military records, and such sources as Freedman's Bureau, churches and cemeteries. Unfortunately, most records pertaining to blacks are unindexed, but more genealogical material is being compiled and published.

Read the chapter "Black Ancestral Research" by John Cerny in a new book called "The Source."

Q: One of my ancestors, born in Ireland, was kidnaped and brought to America in 1702. She was "sold" in Maryland to William Logsdon Sr., yet I have never found any reference to her being called a redemptive slave as others were called. Can you explain this?

A: There were those in Ireland (and other European countries) during this period who were in the business of hunting persons to sell as indentured servants in America. Their methods frequently were unscrupulous.

Many who were "sold" in the Colonies were referred to as servants rather than redemptioners or redemptive slaves. The references to indentured servants or redemptive slaves in court records are not always differentiated. It is known that redemptioners actually were persons who did not negotiate contracts before emigrating, but who redeemed the cost of their passage by selling themselves to the highest bidder after they arrived in America.

Possibly your ancestor was sold originally as an indentured servant and her "contract" was purchased later by Logsdon.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World