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Whenever possible, you should retain copies of census pages where you find an ancestor, and even a page or two preceding and following entry you are interested in. This will save you a great deal of time, since it is often helpful to go back to a census record in search of additional data, when new information becomes available. Look at names of neighbors. Are they same folks who lived nearby in an entirely different location ten or twenty years earlier? They may have migrated together. Did an individual find a spouse from a neighboring farm? Are there relatives settled in same area?
Look at all of information available for any particular census. Don't neglect information at head of page, or sometimes on first page of census for a locality, which gives information on exact date census was compiled, who was recording information, and details about location being surveyed. Is recorder of a different nationality or religion than family you are researching, and how might that influence recording of details? Name spelling, in particular, is often influenced by recorders idea of what is 'right' or reasonable.
In 1900 U.S. census, year of emigration is given for persons born in other countries. Are there others from same country who arrived at same time living in same area? If you later find a ship's list, and these others are on same ship as someone with same name as your ancestor, you have supporting evidence that you have located correct person, and not just someone of same name. Also, you have identified an important relationship. Human social activity is based on relationships, and identifying those relationships can be informative.
America, for example, is made up of immigrants from all parts of world. Very rarely do people new immigrants settle in some particular location just because they have heard it is a good place to be. Most will have friends or relatives who preceded them, and will choose to settle in same area those kith and kin reside. Such relationships help immigrant in finding work or a place of residence, and will be reflected in voluntary associations, such as fraternal groups and religious communities. These same social and kinship relationships will also be found in sponsors and witnesses for vital and legal records. Each time you find evidence for an association, such as witness on a marriage record, you should go back to census to see where new-found person resides, and any similarities in socio-economic status, migration patterns, or other factors for which census provides evidence.
Census records can also help with process of elimination that is sometimes needed. If you can show through a thorough search of census that your John Smith is only John Smith in a particular area, then that heightens probability that John Smith mentioned in a particular record for that region is indeed 'your' John Smith. Thus it is important to note other families in area with same surname as your ancestors. Sometimes these will turn out to be relatives, while in other cases they help with process of elimination.
When looking for records, be sure to check every census available. Cross checking will help determine which facts are correct, and which are questionable. Don't forget that more than one level of government may conduct censuses, as for example in U.S. where there are both Federal and State censuses available for most areas.
Check too for all of census schedules available. There may be separate schedules for farms or businesses, special groups like slaves, veterans of a particular war, etc. There may even be mention of people not alive at time of census, as in case of mortality schedules. Mine all of schedules for area of interest for any facts they may yield.
Finally, compare what you find with published census summaries. These summaries do not usually include names of individuals, but they will give statistical information about a particular area. You can compare details from actual census for your ancestor with statistics for that area, which will tell you how your ancestors fitted into local society. Were they typical for area, or in a small minority in one or another respect? Such evidence can enrich your understanding of your ancestors lives, and with better understanding you can better predict where to find further information.
Census records are a great boon to genealogists -- extract every bit of information you can get from them, then verify those details with supporting evidence from independant sources. Your knowledge of your ancestors will be richer for effort.
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