What Can You Learn From The 1900 Census Records?

By | July 7, 2017

Are you curious as to what your ancestors were doing at the start of the 20th century? The 1900 census records are a great way for you to learn all about them. But what can you find out about your family tree with these records? Well read on and I will explain.

1900 Census Records

Let me first share with you my family history journey!

This post will show you what you can discover from the 1890 census records. But first I wanted to share with you my own family history journey and show you the importance of census records.

My interest in my family history began when my father first told my brothers and I many family stories and anecdotes. I would never tire hearing them as I grew older. I was just so amazed as to how many there were and how far back these tales went. Some back to the mid 1700s.

Genealogy and Family History

I knew that these stories were special. Some of them were definitely unique to my family. Later as a young adult I knew that these stories would have to be recorded otherwise they would have been lost in time. How sad would that have been?

I asked my father to put pen to paper and write down these stories. My next step was to type them.

I thought at first that this would have been easy enough but how wrong was I. There were stories here, there and everywhere. I knew that I would have to put some order into them. I would have to separate them into different branches of my family.

As I did so I could see that there was so much to them that I could add. I therefore wanted to add charts so that people could see the relationship between my ancestors and me. It made the story that much more enjoyable to read.

So I needed to purchase a genealogy software program. This made my job a lot easier. I could easily add these charts into my program and I could also see what pieces of information that I was missing and which ancestors as well.

Then it was time for the census records. The records were a great help to me because I could build out my family tree. Not only was I interested in ancestors but also their siblings and descendants as well.

It soon became an obsession to find as many relatives as I possibly could. I think it was because both my parents were only children and as such I did not know of any cousins when I was growing up.

I did run into some difficulties whilst searching for my ancestors. Some of the problems I faced were brick walls in my research, just how do I find an elusive ancestor.

If you do have problems tracing your family tree then you should check out my census records tips. There are plenty of tips there that will help you on your family history journey.

What stories can I find in the 1900 census records?

Believe it or not but you can actually find stories within the census records. I know what you are saying, ‘but there is just details within these records, just where are the stories?‘. Let me explain.

Write A Family History Book

Look between the lines of the records!

When I first started to look at census records I was just so amazed as to how much it could help me build my family tree. I was able to go further back in time and also look at descendants of many branches. I was able to learn so much about my family history.

But that was the genealogy part. There was more to it than that. What I had collected so far was just names, dates, places, etc. that would help with my tree.

So what is family history then?

Genealogy looks at all the facts, but family history looks at your ancestors stories. And believe me you can find stories if you look a little closer and read between the lines.

For example, while tracing your ancestors through the census records you may discover that they migrated quite a lot.

You may ask yourself why was this? Why did they travel around the state?

It could be for any number of reasons. Possible answers could be that they were trying to find work. This is definitely the case with one of my ancestor’s were traveled around the countryside looking for work as a coal miner.

This is just one question that you can ask yourself. But by looking further into the information that was recorded you can gather the stories. It can also help you search for more information and records.

So What’s In The 1900 Census Records?

The 1900 census records will give you a snapshot into your ancestors lives when it was taken on June 1st of that year. By the time of this twelve census record there were forty five states in America.

Searching For Records

What key elements can you learn from the 1900 census records?


The first key element will no doubt help you to trace your ancestor. However, if you are experiencing difficulty finding an elusive ancestor then I have a couple of suggestions for you.

Firstly, try to use different spellings of your ancestor’s name. You may find that your ancestor’s name was recorded incorrectly and that may be the reason why you can’t find them within these records.

Secondly, if the previous tip is no help then you could try to search for your ancestor by entering their initials. It is not uncommon to find people listed with their initials.


A big clue when searching for your ancestors is knowing where they lived. If you already know this then you can be certain that you have found the right person when searching for them.

There are other clues that will help you identify the right person if you do not know this information. So if that is the case then it can be quite interesting to find where they once called home.

Relationship to head of household

Other individuals will be listed underneath the head of the household. You may deduce by just looking at the name and the age of the person how they relate. But using this key element can be of great use.

For example, if you find a male and female listed with the same surname and similar age you may deduce that they are husband and wife. But what if they were actually brother and sister. You have therefore come to the wrong conclusion.

Color and race

The answer to this key element of the census record can also help you to identify whether you are looking at your ancestor’s details or not. But if you didn’t know either the color or race of a particular ancestor of yours then this element can point you in the right direction to find more information about them.

Answers that you can expect from this question include:

  • White
  • Black
  • Mulatto
  • Quadroon
  • Octoroon
  • Chinese
  • Japanese
  • Indian


Obviously you will know the sex of your ancestor. But this element of the records can help you. If the name of your ancestor is illegible, (due to the fancy writing of the enumerator), then you can ascertain whether you are looking at a male or female from this question’s answer.

Color or race

Birth and age

If you know when your ancestor was born then you can use this information to verify whether you have the correct individual. Individuals were requested to enter the month and year of their birth, as well as their current age.

Marital status and number of years married

Possible answers that your ancestor could have entered:

  • Single
  • Married
  • Widowed, or
  • Divorced.

If your ancestor for example entered ‘widowed‘ then you can backtrack to see when their partner died. If their partner was still alive at the time of the 1890 census record then you will know that their death occurred some time between 1890 and 1900.

The number of years married element can help you to narrow down the search for their marriage record.


There are two questions within this element:

  • Total children born to mother
  • Number of children living

I have learned quite a lot about my family tree from these two questions. For example, from this question I was able to see that I was not aware of one child that my 3rd great grandparents had. Later I discovered who he was and sad to say that he died in his infancy.


Again this element is broken down further:

  • Birthplace of individual
  • Birthplace of parents

As I have pointed out with other elements of the 1900 census records the answers here can give you clues as to where you can search next for more information on your ancestors.


The government were interested to know the following:

  • Foreign born
  • Year of immigration
  • Number of years in U.S.

The answers to these question can help you to track down your ancestor’s immigration records. It can also help you to find them within passenger records.


If you already know what your ancestor’s occupation was then you can use this information to ascertain that you are looking at the correct individual. But if you do not know then the answer to this question can be quite interesting.

The individual was also required to note how many months they were unemployed within the last year.



You can also learn a lot about your ancestor from this element of the records. The first part of this element required the person to enter how long ago they attended school, in months if it was within the last year.

Individuals also had to indicate whether they could read or write, as well as whether they could speak English.

Obviously if they couldn’t speak English then they would have had an interpreter to help them fill out the form. But it must be pointed out that errors can creep in when it came to translating an individual’s answers. So please be cautious of any information entered.

Ownership of home

The last element of the census record was divided into three questions which asked the individual about the ownership of their home.

The census wanted to know if the individual:

  • Owned or rented their home,
  • The home was a farm, and whether
  • The home was mortgaged.

Where Can I Find The 1900 Census Records?

Right now you’re probably itching to find your ancestors within the 1900 census records, and rightly so. For this I have two options available to you. One is a free option and I also have two paid options that you can try as well.

Where can I find the 1880 census records

Your FREE option!

I am a great believer in trying to find my ancestors by as little money as possible, free if I can. One great website that I suggest for you to try is FamilySearch. They have millions of names and records within their database.

I have used this site quite considerably and by doing so it has saved me quite a lot of money. If I hadn’t check out this site first I would probably have spent money to get the same information that I could have got for free. Where is the sense in that?

But there are drawbacks to this site I am afraid to say. The main problem is that you may not be successful in finding your ancestor through this free source. You will therefore need to go to the paid genealogy search sites to discover your family history.

Your PAID options!

As with any hobby there will be a time when you have to spend money. What hobby is there that you don’t spend any money?

Anyway two options that I suggest to you is Ancestry and Find My Past. Both of them are excellent for helping you find your ancestors and build your family tree.

Credit: Ancestry

I predominantly use Ancestry I must admit. They have billions of records. Not only do they have censuses within their databases but much more besides. They have records such as births, deaths and marriages, wills, probates, military records, immigration records and so much more.

Despite the enormous of information that Ancestry does have within their database I have run into trouble when it comes to finding my ancestors. For that reason I have turned my attention to FindMyPast, my second go to website for tracing my family history.

This alternative has been a great help to me when I though that I had hit a brick wall in my research. So if you are unsuccessful with one site then I suggest that you check out the alternative.

Final Thoughts

As I have discussed in this post there is plenty of information that you can gather about your ancestor from the 1900 census records. The problem which I faced was not being unable to find my ancestors but becoming obsessed with finding every relation that I could possibly find.

For that reason I suggest that you pace yourself. Just concentrate on one ancestor at a time. When you have found out as much information as you can about one ancestor then it is time to move onto the next.

One way I have been able to tell my ancestry is to write a family history book. By putting my ancestors lives into chronological order I have discovered what gaps I have had in my knowledge of them.

That has then helped me to turn my attention to other areas of research where I can find out more about my ancestors.

Census records are essentially the first stage of discovering who your ancestors were. It is just a starting point for you. Just take what you have learned about your ancestors and see where it will take you. Trust me you will be surprised.

Thank You and Please Leave A Comment

I hope you enjoyed this post explaining what you can learn from the 1900 census records. If you think that this post will be helpful to others then please share it with friends and family using the social media buttons below.

If you have any questions or comments then please leave a comment below. I would love to hear from you.

Author: Owain

Hello, Owain here. After researching my family history for a number of years I wanted to give back to the genealogy world. So here you will find guides, tips and product reviews that will help you on your genealogy journey.

4 thoughts on “What Can You Learn From The 1900 Census Records?

  1. Brent

    Wow, that was great. you certainly have done your homework but it seems to me that you love your work so it must not be homework at all.

    You shed a lot of light on this task of finding your ancestors. People will gain a lot of knowledge from this post.

    1. Owain Post author

      I certainly do love researching my ancestry. I just love using my detective skills to find my ancestors and trying to make sense of what I find.

      I also love to share with anyone who is doing their own genealogy research the tips and tricks that I have learned along the way.

  2. MJ

    Pretty cool place you got here. I don’t know much about genealogy, but it seems interesting, and I enjoy doing research. History is especially fascinating to me. I was wondering though, are all these historical census records now computerized, or are there places in the US where the records are still more or less analog?

    1. Owain Post author

      Genealogy research can be really fun. You just don’t know what you will discover about your ancestors.

      Yes these census records are all online upto 1940. You won’t be able to get the 1950 census records until 2022 though.


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