10 steps to move beyond the census

1. Estimate Birth, Marriage and Death years

Starting in the 1850 census, each census year provides the approximate age and place of birth for each person recorded, allowing you to easily calculate a year of birth. 


Use the information you find family members in findmypast's U.S. birth, marriage and death records.

Marriage tip: To estimate a marriage year for a couple, examine the birth date of a couple's oldest child and subtract a few years.

Death year tip: Also if you notice an ancestor who disappeared from the census, be sure to check death records as you can look in the decade following their last appearance for a death record.

2. Trace a family's immigration

Later census years provide the year of immigration, which can be used to narrow your search in findmypast.com's ship passenger lists leaving the UK.

The United States was founded by people who went out to discover news lands, new opportunities and a better way a life. At the turn of the 20th century, almost 2 million European immigrants came to the U.S.Find the following arrival immigration records on findmypast.com:


  • Irish famine immigrants
  • Germans to America
  • Italians to America
  • Russians to America

  • Check for inaccuracies: Because immigration information on the census may be inaccurate, be sure to search records a few years before and after the date recorded on the census.

    Pay attention to the date of immigration for all children: Families might not have traveled to the United States at the same time and could be found on different passenger lists.

    3. Discover your ancestor's employment records

    Use occupation information from the census to search for work records for a . Nurses, doctors, lawyers, farmers, merchants, and many more are all enumerated in the census.


    The following collections on findmypast.com provide work records that can be searched outside of the census:

  • UK work records
  • Irish Work records
  • Australian and New Zealand work records
  • 4. Check the neighbors to find more relatives

    Be sure to look at the families living next to your ancestors, which might be relatives, for example in-laws or siblings, and can lead to important clues for research.

    Neighbors tip: Look for patterns in birthplaces, occupations, and other details as you look at those enumerated on the same page as the family you are researching.

    5. Learn about Military Service

    Some census years provide information on an ancestor's military service, listing service from the Revolutionary War to World War II. The 1840 census is first census to list ages, but only of war veterans.

    For example: In the 1840 census, the names and ages of surviving Revolutionary War soldiers who were receiving a pension are listed on the second page, and can lead you to military service and pension records.


    The following military records collections are indexed on findmypast.com:

  • United States military records
  • Irish military records
  • United Kingdom Armed forces and conflict records
  • Australian and New Zealand armed forces and conflict records
  • 6. Look for children not listed

    Remember that the census is only a single snapshot of a family on a given day and might be incomplete. Starting in the 1900 U.S. census, records list the number of children a mother has and how many are living.


    Tip: Look for gaps between the ages of children, as a child might have died young, moved out of the house, or be living (and working) outside of the family's home when the census enumerator visited.

    7. Examine naturalization dates

    How to read census abbreviations: Columns marked "Na" indicate the individual was naturalized, while "Al" indicates they had not yet begun the process.

    8. Look for land ownership

    If someone owned land, be sure to search local land records for information on the sale of the property. Land records can answer questions about relationships, dates of migration, maiden names, and answer other questions on your family tree.

    9. Find ancestors in yearly city directories

    Most cities in the United States publish a directory of their residents each year, which can provide a year-by-year timeline of a family.

    Start with the year of the census and work backwards or forwards as needed. Directories might include information on a family's arrival or departure into an area, address changes, and even significant events in the family such as marriages, divorces, and deaths.

    10. Look for State Censuses

    Some states (such as Iowa, New York, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island) took a state census to bridge the gap between the federal census years.

    For example: In New York state census records occured every ten years starting around 1825 and continue past 1925 in many areas. These records often provide additional details not included in the federal census records.