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Ask Ancestry Anne: What Should I Do With A Census Image?

Question: I found my family in the 1940 Census, but I’m not sure what to do now. Is there something else I should be looking for?

— Jo Anna Worthington

Answer:  Finding the record is only part of the game. The next step is to figure out how to use the information in it. I’ll use George J. Hickman’s family from the 1940 census as our example.

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Step 1.  Learn everything you can from the record.

The 1940 census has a lot of information.  For now, we’ll look at

  1.   Names, ages, birthplaces, and relationships
  2. Residence in 1940 and 1935
  3. Occupation

Get started by selecting “View image.”

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Names, ages, birthplaces and relationships.

The image shows that George is living with his wife, Edna; four daughters, Doris, Deloris, Frances, and Betty Joyce; his son, George; and his Uncle William.  Everyone was born in Virginia except Edna, who was born in West Virginia.

Doris and Deloris are both 8.  Twins?

Uncle William is listed as single. He was likely never married; otherwise, he would probably be listed as divorced or widowed.

Where they lived in 1940 and 1935.

The Hickmans lived on Road #685 in Natural Bridge, Rockbridge County, Virginia.

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Street names and addresses, when available, are listed vertically in column 1.

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If the family lived in the same house in 1935, you’ll see “Same House” in column 17, or if they lived in the same town but a different house, you’ll see “Same Place.” The Hickmans have an “R” in column 17.  This R means rural and tells us they lived in another town with a population under 2,500.

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What they did for a living.

Columns 28 and 29 tell us George was a tinner in the building industry, and Uncle William was a section hand for the railroad.

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Step 2.  Write down what you learn.

Don’t tell yourself, “Oh, I’ll remember this.”  You won’t.  Save the record to your Ancestry.com family tree. If you don’t already have an Ancestry.com family tree, you’ll have the option to create one using this record.

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Also, take notes about what you find on a record – even consider creating a notebook with a page or tab for everyone in the family. That way you’ll know where you found that key birth date or maiden name and you won’t have to dig through all of the records you’ve discovered to find that information again.

Step 3. Ask new questions.

Every time you learn something new about your ancestors, chances are you’ll end up with a few more questions, too. Here are some things we don’t know about the Hickmans:

  1. Where exactly did they live in 1935?  Why did they move?
  2. When did George and Edna marry?
  3. When did Edna move to Virginia?
  4. Why was Uncle William living with the family
  5. Were Doris and Deloris twins?
  6. What is a tinner? What did a section hand do? 
  7. Who were their neighbors?  Did any other Hickmans live in the area?

Each of these questions are linked to another record collection.

Question 1 – where they lived in 1935 – may be answered by a city directory, which may also tell you George’s occupation. If it changed between 1935 and 1940, that may mean George took a new job with a new employer, which triggered the family’s move.

Question 2 could be answered by a marriage record.

Question 3 will require Edna’s maiden name, which can be found on that marriage record, which can then be used to find Edna with her parents in earlier census records, and so on.

Familiarizing yourself with all of the records available on Ancestry.com and the type of details contained in each will make your search for more answers simpler.