Census Records Search Example for Ancestor Research

Searching for All Family Members Starting With the 1850 Census

This example involves my third great-grandparents George Cummins and Sarah Ann Hall. They married in 1838. 1850 was the first census available that listed the names of both George and Sarah along with the six children they had at the time. Here is the 1850 census records for Meigs County, Ohio.

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1850 Census for Meigs County, Ohio
1850 Census for Meigs County, Ohio

Difficulty Finding the Family in the 1860 Census

This research was done in the 1990s before many census records were online. I looked and looked through microfilm, but could not find this family in the 1860 census. So, I asked another researcher more familiar with this part of the country to help me. She found the family in Jackson County, Virginia (now West Virginia) across the Ohio River from Meigs County, Ohio. The head of household is now "S. A. Cummons." This is Sarah Ann Cummins. The oldest child is "Del Cummons." This is Delilah Cummins, who happens to be my second great-grandmother. Delilah is identified by the arrow in both censuses. Note the challenging handwriting in the 1860 census.

1860 Census for Jackson County, Virginia
1860 Census for Jackson County, Virginia

George Cummins, My Third Great Grandfather, Was Missing

Apparently, something happened to George between 1850 and 1860. Even though he was relatively young, the most likely explanation is that he died. This allowed me to search for a death record for George in Jackson County since I could specify that he died between 1850 and 1860. My guess was correct. He died in 1858. Also, it appears that Sarah Ann was pregnant at the time and that she named that daughter Georgia after her late husband. Georgia is the last child listed above in the 1860 census.

George Cummins Death Certificate
George Cummins Death Certificate

Searching Census Records Is Much Easier Now

This search example is from my genealogical research in the 1990s. The search capabilities have improved since then. To test the improvement, I recently tried searching for the 1860 census record for Sarah Ann Cummins and family without specifying Virginia (or West Virginia) on Ancestry.com. The 1860 census record shown above was the ninth suggestion. I also tried a similar search on FamilySearch.org and it listed the 1860 census record shown above as first in the search results. In both case, I searched for Sarah instead of her husband George. Other than that, today's online searching is so much easier than it was in the 1990s.

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