For the beginning genealogist, census records are a great place to start. You can track down names, locations, household members and even occupations of your ancestors. But be warned! Information provided varies depending on the census year; the questions became more specific and detailed as time went by. For example, if your ancestor was a child in 1840, you will not be able to find his name because enumerators only collected the names of heads of households. Everyone else was a tick mark. It wasn’t until 1850 that names and ages were provided for everyone in the household, and relationships among individuals weren’t provided until 1880. So how do you know which census collected what? At the Mocavo website, clicking on a Census year will bring up the available search fields for that decade’s census. As you can see, there is a huge difference between information collected in 1790
Mocavo, like other genealogy websites, will search all available census data for you. This includes schedules from 1790-1940, the latter being the most recent census year available. They do not provide information on the 1890 census, because almost all of that data was tragically lost in a fire. Read about how the records were destroyed here.
Ancestry.com, one of the online genealogy giants, is working to help researchers fill in the gaps left by the fire. Read about their project here.
If you are studying genealogy in the 21st century, you can hardly avoid the amazing (and often overwhelming) information that can be found on the internet. But you may be stymied by a site asking you to buy a subscription, or a database that is only available on site at a university or a library. Take heart! Now there is Mocavo, a place to search census records and many other databases (newspapers, directories, yearbooks, histories, etc) online FOR FREE from your own home computer.
I had to try it out and see how it compared with Ancestry’s census search. It was just as easy to find my grandmother in the 1930 census at both sites. While Mocavo has a searchable, sortable index linked to the image of the actual record, they didn’t index the “occupation” field. But seeing how Ancestry.com indexed my great-grandfather’s occupation as “bris driver” (instead of “bus driver”), maybe we’re not missing much. I like that I can view the index and original record on the same page at Mocavo, and let’s face it, any site that allows me to conduct free research at home in my jammies gets my vote.
I recommend Mocavo to anyone looking for census records and other genealogical information, but even though you can do this at home, don’t forget that we librarians are still here to help you when you have trouble. So come on in to Dover Public Library if you get stuck. Bring your laptop and your genealogy questions, all we ask is that you get dressed first.
– Claire Kandle
Local History & Genealogy Librarian