CENSUS MORE THAN JUST A NUMBER — Flora VerStraten-Merrin, back, and Diane Wagner, family history consultant at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, research materials for individuals who want to locate someone within their family’s history. This research is done through utilizing the Federal Census report, which provides a great deal of information, including their extended family members.
BALLOTS OF YEARS PAST — An example of a handout which VerStraten-Merrin uses in her presentations, showing how surveys looked throughout the 1790s up until the 1950s.
WINTERSVILLE — It turns out that small government mailing known as the U.S. Census is so much more than anyone even realized.
That thin piece of paper, which perhaps takes less than five minutes to complete, may actually change a person’s entire life. Who knew?
It isn’t about knowing the current population. Not entirely. It isn’t only about focusing on percentages regarding race or ethnicity, either.
The survey which inquires as to the names of those residing in your household could be a key factor to finding a lost, untraceable family member.
A public luncheon and presentation regarding the U.S. Federal Census will take place at 1 p.m. Nov. 5 at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This is a free event and open to any area resident.
This event, entitled “A Stroke of Genealogy — Searching United States Census Bureau Records,” is limited to the first 50 attendees who register due to limited seating and lunch. Registration will be open until the deadline of Oct. 30.
Flora VerStraten-Merrin is president of the Jefferson County Chapter of the Ohio Genealogical Society, located at 501 Fifth St., Stratton. She is a genealogist and local historian who will serve as speaker at the afternoon event.
The church, located at 437 Powells Lane in Wintersville, will be the point of contact for registering, as well. Contact the chapter’s treasurer, Connie Rohall, by phone or text message at (740) 632-2735 or through email at [email protected] to reserve one of the 50 available seats.
Rohall will be able to confirm if seats are still available.
“We do expect to fill up quickly, so please, do not hesitate in registering if you plan to attend,” officials stated.
The presentation, which will include handouts, begins during lunch and will last for approximately one hour.
“We will allow time during and after the presentation for a question-and-answer period, as well as time to explore census records on the computer by observing how and where to locate these valuable records,” VerStraten-Merrin said.
While most consider U.S. census records to be another government project, it can be the source of many clues about family members and ancestors. This one simple form.
“All of the top columns of the federal census represent questions,” VerStraten-Merrin said. “All of the entries below the columns include answers. Study every column. Pull out all of the information about your ancestor and his or her family before you dismiss it as completed and move on to another source record. You will truly be surprised and this will open up windows into the past that maybe you missed.”
It was only last year that the 1950 federal census was released. Users were first able to access its records on April 1, 2022.
Now that officials have released the records, those at the event will learn how to locate and navigate these dedicated websites.
So why has it taken 72 years for the government to release this data?
Those attending the Nov. 5 presentation will learn why there has been a 72-year common restriction on census records, with VerStraten-Merrin offering that one of the reasons for this delay may be the average life span used to be 72 years of age.
“These federal records unlock a digital treasure chest for people researching their family histories, VerStraten-Merrin stated. “When the 1940 and 1950 census data was released, the websites were paralyzed with people searching for their families. Each census is unique and can be very informative for those searching for their ancestors. They reveal conditions during the Depression, if an ancestor was naturalized or in the process of becoming naturalized, their income and many other genealogical tidbits which can help lead a researcher to other helpful records. The data changes from census to census and various, interesting facts about our ancestors can be revealed.”
“There is valuable information in census records for family historians,” she continued. “For example, names, ages and relationships. This particular record may be the only record available for documenting the events of a person’s life, if other records don’t exist or can’t be found. A census can easily extend pedigree further back and add missing or additional family members. There is a high probability of finding the person for whom you are searching through this method, since about 90 percent of U.S. citizens are listed in a census. A census is readily available, indexed and usually easy to search.”
“These are some of the census facts which will be tackled during the presentation,” VerStraten-Merrin commented, adding she promises this event to be an energetic presentation with helpful and useful information. She is open to interactive questions that pertain to the topic of census records during the discussion, as well.
“Did you know that there is public-use data, as well as a restricted database for the federal census?”
“Do you know how and where to access federal census records?”
“Can you search census records for free? And if so, how and where?”
“When was the first federal census taken?”
“What can I learn about my parents or grandparents from a census record that I don’t already know?”
These are just a few of the questions VerStraten-Merrin will answer throughout the event.
“What makes federal and local census’ so interesting, is that they change from 10 years to the next 10 years,” she explained. “In the 1950 census, and maybe a few before then, we are looking at records for those that may still be living in our families — ourselves, parents or grandparents. The younger generation can take a leap to great-grandparents and beyond that may still be living. For me, it was so interesting and informative to locate my father and his family on the census records in the South End of Steubenville and I have been able to use various federal census records to trace my father’s lineage back in Jefferson County to the 1790s.”
Immediately following the presentation, the Latter-day Saints’ family history consultant, Diane Wagner, will be on hand to set up appointments and answer questions about what is available on the computers at the church library. These services are conducted free of charge, it was noted. Those trying to conduct searches on their own may incur costs associated in their research, while the church offers the assistance for free, officials stated.
The church’s library has three computers and several accounts with free access to various websites, VerStraten-Merrin said. Some of the most widely-accessed research sites in the world are available, including Family Search, Ancestry’s worldwide edition and Heritage Quest, among several others.
Wagner not only serves as a family history consultant for the Wintersville church, but is available to assist anyone in the community in their search requests, it was noted. The small research library is a free service and open and available to all, by appointment.
“I will also be sharing exclusive features and how to navigate them from two of these largest online genealogical websites, familysearch.org and Ancestry.com,” VerStraten-Merrin said. “Familysearch.org is a free online source and Ancestry.com is a fee-based online source.”
VerStraten-Merrin will use real-life examples, including how she located ancestors. She will explain the details of their lives, which she never would have found through any other means. Having 46 years of experience and practice in researching her own ancestors, she will share techniques for navigating websites easily. She provided an example which included hovering over search tabs, clicking lists in drop-down menus and narrowing down a search.
“Learning the configuration of the family changes over time,” she said. “There are other families with the same name. I will explain how it is important to look on the actual image of the census page and not just the information that was indexed. This one record can lead a family researcher to many other vital records, such as church, cemetery, court and legal, land or deeds, taxes, military, immigration and naturalization records, just to name a few.”
“A census can disclose a wealth of information about where we came from and how we got to where we are today,” VerStraten-Merrin stated. “Look at the birthplace of the parents, number of years they were married, how many children living and deceased, marital status, immigration status. Maybe an ancestor began the naturalization process but never completed it. The 1820, 1830 and 1840 census asks for foreigners who are not naturalized. In 1870, the questions changed and a column for male citizens was created. How about our Revolutionary War ancestors’ pensioners? They were recorded on the reverse of each page of the 1840 population schedules. The 1890 census had the Civil War veteran’s population schedules, which is helpful since most of this was destroyed during a fire.
By 1910, the census included survivors of the Union Army, Navy and Confederates. There is so much to share. The learning will just begin at this presentation, and will continue well after it is over.”
“I can only touch on a few points of interest and hope that those interested in learning about their family trees will continue to take advantage of the vast resources available,” she continued. “These are not only located at our fingertips, but in local repositories throughout the country and world-wide. Many other countries share in census taking, as well.”
“Many times, small local resources get forgotten and overlooked due to our ability to look up sources on our phones and computers. But we should never forget that a little genealogy office, such as ours, or the historical societies in the town or county where our ancestors lived and died, are a wonderful fountain of untapped family history information. Even many of the local libraries where our ancestors lived have genealogical departments. We have one right here at the Schiappa Library. These are all valuable sources of information that can’t be located or accessed on the world-wide Internet. Even with all of our digital capabilities and resources, not every genealogical source will be or can be expected to be found at your fingertips on the Internet. Sometimes, we need to be sleuths and research the records in the towns, counties and states in which our ancestors lived and died. We need to remember that the way we truly share a connection to our ancestors is through visiting and experiencing the areas where they lived, worked, raised their families, attended church and are buried. All of these factors lead to various records in which to learn more about our family’s roots and branches.”
“There are various sources within the Jefferson County Chapter Genealogical Society’s office which cannot be found anywhere else,” VerStraten-Merrin commented. “So, if we have those types of sources in our office, these sources exist all over the world. Contact these agencies — no matter how small or large the area is. The people that volunteer in the historical and genealogy societies, five times out of 10, know your ancestors’ surname and may even know more about them than you do. I have witnessed this in my many years of researching my own ancestors and in my 22 years of assisting others in locating their ancestors in Jefferson County. Seek out the professionals in the areas where your ancestors lived so that you aren’t spending precious time re-inventing the wheel. There may be a Bible, a local veteran’s burial record, a local census, a family history, photos, local criminal records, church or cemetery records of christenings and burials that you have no idea even exist.”
“I plan to share little-known facts about census records and how locating a family member in a census can lead a researcher to other little-known sources. Using this valuable source, such as a census, we can glean more information about our parents and grandparents that can help us connect with living cousins and locating aunts and uncles.”
“A tidbit which I found interesting is that census officials created catchy slogans that called on the entire country to ‘stand up and be counted,’” VerStraten-Merrin said. “Some of these slogans were created in the 1940 census. They stated, ‘It’s your America! Help the 10-year roll call.’ The 1950 census slogan was, ‘Helping the census helps Uncle Sam. Make sure you count in America’s future.’ The 1960 census slogan was, ‘The census helps plan your future. Be sure you’re counted with all Americans.’”
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