US Federal Census glitches



California Genealogy and History Archives

US Federal Census glitches


  • There was no Federal census taken before 1790.
  • The earlier the census, the fewer questions were asked. The first one asked only 7 questions.
  • Parts of the census were lost or destroyed. The 1890 census was almost completely destroyed by fire. In the absence of census records, tax lists or other local listings may be searched.
  • Many census takers were poorly trained or didn't take their responsibility seriously.
  • Families were sometimes left off the census because they were away visiting relatives or they lived in multi-family dwellings and were overlooked.
  • Some census takers didn't follow directions and left off answers for some of the questions.
  • If adults were not home, sometimes answers were requested of small children or neighbors or the enumerator guessed the answers himself.
  • Incorrect answers were given due to poor memory or lack of understanding of a question.
  • Poor quality of paper and/or ink, as well as handwriting.
  • The quality of microfilm can be poor, making copy too dark or too small or otherwise unreadable.
  • If the person lived in a large city, you must know in which part of the city or the ward he lived in order to perform a search.