Historical Albion Michigan
By Frank Passic

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U.S. CENSUS RECORDS PINPOINT YOUR ANCESTORS EVERY 10 YEARS

The following article appeared in the July-August 2000 issue of The Lithuanian Museum Review, pp. 14-15
published by the Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture.
Write: Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture, 6500 S. Pulaski Road, Chicago, IL 60629. (773) 582-6500.
E-mail: editor@lithuanian-museum.org.

Last issue we discussed finding your ancestors Declaration of Intention to become a U.S. Citizen form. This issue we will focus on another source of genealogical information--U.S. Census records. We all know that the decennial Census was conducted this year, and that personal Census information is confidential and is not released to anyone. The one exception provided for by law however is for genealogical purposes beginning 72 years later. Currently the 1920 U.S. Census is the last one available for researchers. The 1930 Census will become available in 2002.

The Census has been conducted every 10 years since 1790. It lists all persons living here, whether they are a U.S. citizen or not. Most Lithuanians came to America in great numbers from the period after 1890 to World War I. For Lithuanian-Americans, the first available Census therefore is 1900, as 1890 Census records were destroyed in a warehouse fire in the 1920s.

The U.S. Census records will be a "snapshot" of your ancestor's family and location as of January 1, 1900, 1910, or 1920. Note: the "Census Day" in recent Censusí has been April 1. So if your ancestor arrived in America in 1911 for example, they will not be listed until the 1920 Census. Often when Lithuanians came to America, they had "temporary" jobs which got them started with their new lives until they were able to settle down, establish their own families and businesses, and locations. Until such time, they lived in various apartment/boarding houses near factories and/or lived with other Lithuanians or relatives. U.S. Census data can help reveal these living situations our ancestors found themselves in.

How do you find your ancestor on U.S. Census records? Census records are arranged by state, county, municipality/jurisdiction such as a city, village or township, and then by areas such as wards or districts within cities. You will therefore need to go to a facility that has the microfilmed Census records for the county in which your ancestor lived.

As with the Ship Passenger Arrival Records, the U.S. Census records have been indexed according to the National Archives "Soundex" system. There are master indexes available so if you do not know what county they lived in, you can look their name by state and get help there. This can help when trying to find which reel of microfilm your ancestors Census record is found on. This is especially true if your ancestor lived in a highly populated urban city such as Chicago. Many local libraries across the country have reels of microfilm with Census records for their own particular county. Some facilities have even had the local county Census records indexed, thus bypassing the Soundex system. If your ancestor lived in a small town or a sparsely populated farming township, you can generally look up that particular township and view Census records page-by-page until you come to their name.

As with the Ship Passenger Arrival Records, there are several considerations to be reminded of. Often the Census enumerator could not understand the Lithuanian immigrant who knew little English and spoke with a heavy accent. This resulted in mis-spellings of the family name. Be aware of this if you use the Soundex system to find your family surname. You may have to try several spellings if it affects the Soundex code. Even then, you may have to view the microfilm frame-by-frame until you find your ancestors surname and be shocked at how it is spelled. As we all know, Lithuanian surnames (-auskas, -ivicius, -aitis, etc.) were sometimes changed by factory foremen and other officials for their convenience at the time.

For example, my maternal grandfather Nikodemas Kulikauskas (1890-1975) who was from the Varniai-Janapolì, Lithuania area, is listed as "Michael Kolikolski" in the 1920 Census. As a result, I had to locate his name using the "frame-by-frame" microfilm method. The surname was eventually "Polonized" to Kulikowski in later years. Researchers should therefore note the evolution of family surnames when looking at Census records. The earliest versions often will be the most correct and can help when branching out into other genealogical searches such as ship records or citizenship papers.

Do not let the name of the country stated derail you in your search. As mentioned in a previous article, there were three main countries in Eastern Europe before World War I: Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Russia. These covered numerous conquered countries and nationalities. Lithuanians were often listed under Russia in the "place of birth" column. Sometimes it would be listed as Russia/Poland.

Penmanship is usually not as big an issue with Census records as it is with ship passenger arrival records, as the enumerators were instructed to write neatly and correctly. Some problems may be encountered however with "light" pencils and poor microfilming which could make the record hard to read.

With these things in mind, we can now decipher the information found on our ancestor's Census records. Each Census had its own particular number of questions that were required to be asked of each household as instructed by the U.S. Congress. The number of questions was low enough before World War II that individual Census forms were not required. Census enumerators (thatís official government jargon for "Census taker") would go up and down a particular street and enumerate each house in their district/assignment area. The results would be recorded in ledger columns all on the same sheets of paper. There are therefore several different families listed on one page.

We will use the 1920 Census questionnaire here as an example. The "questions" appear as small print on microfilm and may be hard to decipher, and so we will explain each column here. Column 1 in the "place of abode" section asks the name of the street the house is located on. This will be written vertically and may cover several families living on the same street. Column 2 asks for the house number. Columns 3 and 4 are enumerators internal reference "in-order" numbers.

Column 5 contains the name of each person living in a residence. The head of the household will be listed first, followed by the wife, children, other relatives, and boarders. Column 6 will describe the relationship of each person to the head of the household. Column 8 asks if the residence is owned or rented, while Column 9 asks if it is owned free or is it mortgaged. Column 9 asks the sex of each person. Column 10 asks "color or race." (In an interesting sidelight, a dozen or so black Americans listed Lithuanian as their ancestry in the 1960 Census, according to the Ethnic Almanac in the Museum library) Column 11 ask the age as of the last birthday. Column 12 asks for marital status: Married, Single, widowed, or divorced.

Under the "citizenship" section, Column 13 can be important. It asks what year the person came to the United States. This may not always be exact however. If the Lithuanian immigrant was able to say to the enumerator for example, "1910," it would be recorded as such. But if the person told the 1920 enumerator that he "had been here in America about 10 years," the enumerator might write 1910, while the person could have actually come in 1911.

Column 14 asks if each person is Naturalized or Alien. The information on this column too may not always be correct. The enumerator would often find a wife at home and the husband was off working in the factory. Expect therefore to see "PA" written in the column--that means "Probably Alien!" Column 15 asks the year the person was naturalized.

The next several columns help establish a Lithuanian heritage. Columns 19 and 20 ask the country place of birth, and the mother tongue, respectively. Look for "Lithuanian" under Column 20. Often if you wish to look up how many Lithuanians lived in your own particular community, this is the column to look at right away. Columns 21, 22, 23, and 24 ask the same questions concerning each persons father and mother, that is, where their parents were born and what their native language was.

Column 25 asks if the person speaks the English language. Column 26 asks the occupation. Often Lithuanians will be listed as a "molder," "laborer," or "miner," depending upon the profession. Column 27 relatedly asks what type of business, and answers could include "factory," "farming," and others. Column 28 asks if they received wages for their work. Some independent workers could have an answer such as "OA," meaning "on own account."

When you locate the Census record of your ancestor, be sure and make a clear copy of it. Do not forget to copy the top of the page which gives the name of the locality, the enumeration date, the name of the enumerator, the enumeration district, page number, and other information. You may also wish to write down the microfilm reel number and other information you may deem helpful if you ever have to try and look up the same information again.

As with the ship passenger arrival records and the Declaration of Intention to become a U.S. citizen, the Balzekas Museum would appreciate copies of your ancestors U.S. Census records which we could place in our surname file archives. We wish you the best in your search. Please make a copy for us, as well as the records of other Lithuanians you may come across in your town. We will file them for future use for researchers and genealogists.


1920 U.S. Census page from Albion, Michigan. Nikodemas ["Michael Kolikolski"] family begins on line 16. Notice "Lithuanian" as the mother tongue.

More articles about genealogy by Frank Passic.


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