Are You Having a Hard Time Finding That Illusive Immigrant Ancestor? The 1900 Census Might Help
By Dave Miller
What I always find very frustrating (Yes, I also have frustrating moments in my research too!) is trying to trace that ancestor who immigrated into the U.S. yet you can’t find any information on them until years later or some family member tells you that this ancestor arrived from another country. After doing a certain amount of searching, you can’t come up with anything. It’s like an episode of Star Trek, this ancestor just mysteriously materializes out of nowhere. You might see a picture of this person later in life or you find them in another record but that it. You just can’t pin down when this ancestor arrived or in some cases, where they originated.
If you believe this ancestor arrived before 1900 you might be in luck. The 1900 U.S. Census provides lots of useful information for the family historian who is looking for that hard to find immigrant ancestor. This was one of the first censuses that provided more detailed information not just on the individual but also when that immigrant arrived into the U.S.
One of the first striking items that makes the 1900 Census stand out is the detailed information it provides for each member of the household. After the name of the individual, each enumeration lists the relationship of each member of the household. It then lists the month and year of birth for each person. Prior to and even after the 1900 census, the age of the ancestor was all that was listed. The 1900 census then lists the relationship of each member of the family and how long each couple has been married. In the case of the mother, the census lists the number of children that mother gave birth and the number of those children that were still alive at the time the census was taken.
The census identifies where the ancestor was born as well as the birthplace of the person’s mother and father. Now, this is where this census really stands out! With each immigrant in the census, the enumerator lists the year that person immigrated and where that person has been Naturalized at the time of the census. You will see if the person was an alien (AL), had applied for the first papers or the intent to naturalize (PA) or was already naturalized (NA). This information will then allow you to check passenger lists and naturalization records to possibly obtain additional information on the immigrant’s native country and possibly more on that person’s family especially if the ancestor arrived with other family members.
You can find copies of the 1900 U.S. Census on microfilm at many public libraries, genealogy archives, at the National Archives and many of the National Archives Regional Centers. You can even read up more on this census from the National Archives website. You can also find this particular census on many of the free and pay genealogy websites.
The 1900 Census is one way you not only can find where this ancestor was living at this time in history, but it might give you clues when they arrived, if they were naturalized at the time this census was taken and confirm where they originated. It’s a great way to knock down that brick wall and confirm that, no Scotty didn’t just beam them over.