Lineage Society

Can I use the census in my application?

The release of the 1950 census has genealogists digging back into their census research. If you’re in the midst of preparing a lineage society application, you’re probably wondering if you can use a census enumeration as supporting documentation. The short answer: maybe.

Here’s what you need to know:

  1. Not every society accepts the use of the census. Check the guidelines.
  2. It cannot be used as a substitute for vital records, if those records exist. Most societies now require that you provide birth, marriage, and death records as applicable for you, your parents, and grandparents. They also strongly encourage that you submit vital records if they exist for earlier generations. That means if a vital record documents the same event, you should submit it – and not the census.
  3. It can only be used to document what it documents. The 1850 census is the first to list everyone in the household. However, that census doesn’t list how the members of the household are related. It’s common for genealogists to assume the children of the household are the offspring of the adults. However, since the census doesn’t actually say that, another source needs to be used to document the relationship.
  4. If there’s a question, be prepared to provide additional sources. Keep in mind, the older census enumerations were created by someone going door to door. You don’t always know who provided the information or if it was heard incorrectly because of an ancestor’s accent. When in doubt, address conflict.