Thursday, August 18, 2011

A Brick Wall Strategy – Census Records

Did you know that the census records can reveal different information depending on where you find your information? Yeah, I was surprised, too. Let’s just talk about four different sources. One is free, one is paid for by your local library, and two are available with subscriptions or through local libraries or family history centers.

At issue is who scanned the material and when and then who indexed it. The four sites are – free, – library based, – subscription, and the 800 lb gorilla – – also subscription based.

Over the years I’ve found that the best quality census records came from Heritage Quest. They also have the best search capabilities for census information. I finally found a missing ancestor by searching for the given name and country of birth instead of searching for the surname. Heritage Quest brings up a list of results by state and finding my ancestor was much easier. has upgraded their images recently and has wonderful tools for showing other names on a page with links to images which may include has very high quality images and good tools for inverting from black on white to white on black at high quality.

The other thing if found out about census records is that not all holders of these census records have indexed all years and all people and all states! Don’t just assume that the site has done this work. Check the “about this database”  or "What's new" notes before you enter a search. You may be looking for information on a site that they have not even indexed, yet. Heritage Quest recently completed indexing the 1930 census but recently they only had Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Texas, and Virginia indexed and online. No wonder I could not find my Pennslyvania ancestors there in 1930.

So your ancestor may be hiding on another website’s index.

Happy Hunting!


  1. All great sites. I have used all of these. Its always nice to get to use the free sites.

  2. I have tried all these sites. I like Ancestry because you can do soundex searches for names that can be spelled several ways. Then if I find who I'm looking for I switch over to Heritage Quest to get the best image.