Feb 10, 2023

The 1900 Census

February 10, 2023

Census records are an American genealogist’s best resource. Censuses in the U.S. have been taken every ten years since 1790, and most of them still exist. The censuses through 1950 are all digitized and indexed and readily found on various genealogical websites.


Each of the censuses varies in the information it includes. While all censuses are useful, most genealogists have a favorite – one that they feel gives the most information. For many of us, it’s the 1900 census.


Like its predecessors from 1850 and beyond, the 1900 census lists all household members by name. It includes each person’s relationship to the head of the household as well as their sex, race and age at their last birthday.


Unlike any other census, the 1900 census enumerator asked for the month and year of each person’s birth. In many parts of the U.S., birth certificates were still not required at this time, so this additional information is often the only record of a person’s birthdate.


The 1900 census is also filled with clues for further research. For example, one of the questions concerns marital status. If married, the next question asked was the number of years married. Knowing how long a couple has been married can help a researcher find a marriage record for the couple. It can also sometimes point towards a second marriage for a man if the children listed on the census are identified as his, but some of the children are too old to have been born in the marriage listed on the census.


Additionally, mothers were asked how many children they’d given birth to and how many were currently living. If the numbers are different, it may mean that some children died young. It could also indicate that older children were already out of the house when the census was taken. Either way, further research is probably in order.


Like several other censuses, the 1900 census had questions about people’s backgrounds. Place of birth as well as parents’ places of birth were required. If foreign born, the number of years a person had lived in the United States was listed. Year of immigration as well as whether the person was naturalized was also included. These questions can lead a researcher towards additional records such as passenger lists and naturalization records.


There were also questions that help identify a person’s economic status. These included a question about occupation as well as questions about whether the person’s home was owned or rented. These questions can lead to research into occupational and property records.


Finally, it’s important to spend some time looking at the entries before and after your ancestor’s. These are the FAN Clubs of your ancestors: friends, associates and neighbors. Researching them may give you new insights into your ancestor’s life.


The 1900 census is worth seeking out for any ancestor who was living at that time. Even if you’ve already located an ancestor in the 1900 census, reviewing the information in the columns beyond the names is worth doing. You may find overlooked hints and clues. After all, the 1900 census is genealogists’ favorite for a reason.


Carol Stetser