Terry's TMG Tips

Managing Census Information

This page updated 1 Sep 2008

Applies to Versions 8 & 9

How to best record all the information found in a census is a question that seems to recur regularly. A number of different approaches have been developed by users. Helpful discussions of some of them can be found using the following links:

Each method, or a variation of it, has its adherents. Which method works best for any user depends on a number of factors, including just what that user's objective is in recording census information. The method I describe here is intended to meet my objectives, which are to record all the information I find useful, preserving accurately the source of the information, and creating reasonably readable text in reports with a minimum of manual editing. My method involves custom Source Types to record the census as a Source, recording some information from the census in several regular Tags, and a custom census Tag to record other information.

My experience with census records has been largely with the U.S. Federal Census; I have had few occasions to use other types of census records. Therefore the custom Source Type and custom Census Tag Types discussed here are tailored to the U.S. census. However the general method I describe can be used with other types of census records, and the custom Source Type and Tag Types could be adapted for them as well. In fact, I have created a generalized Census Tag Type using some of the same methods that I have used on the few occasions I have had to record another type of census.

Create a Source Entry for the Census

The first thing I do is create a Source for the census. There has been considerable discussion among users about exactly what census unit should be entered as a TMG "source." I have concluded that defining a Source for each household is the best solution. This allows all the relevant details to be included in the Source Definition, so the citations are simple. And it permits attaching images of the census pages as exhibits for use on websites created with Second Site. To see a suggestion on using this approach, see my Census Source Types article.

I previously used a method that required entering one Source for each roll of microfilm, which is described in my article on Census Source Types with Split CD.

Cite the Census Source in Tags where It Logically Applies

The census is a potential source for many of the tags routinely entered about a person in TMG. The following is a list of the tags in which I often record information from the census, citing the census as a source. Obviously the information available will vary depending on the detail available in the census year being used.

The very helpful website, usa.ipums.org/usa/voliii/tEnumInstr.shtml, provides complete instructions for each census year. I have found the instructions very helpful in interpreting entries found in census returns.

A Word About Dates

As most researchers know, the information in each U.S. Census was supposed to be "as of" a specific date, although the dates changed from census to census. Enumerators were instructed, for example, to record persons who had died since the "as-of" date as living, and to omit children born after that date. While we expect that these instructions were generally followed, most experienced researchers have seen cases were they were not. In my view, when using the census as a source it is important to understand the official "as-of" date, but also to be aware of the possibility that it may not have been observed on occasion. When I see evidence that the "as-of" date was not followed, I record that in the CD of the citation in the tag where I cite the census, or even in the Memo or a separate note if the issue is significant.

However, I record the actual enumeration date in my census tags (for years after 1840 - it was generally not recorded before that). I view my census tags as recording the fact that the family was enumerated, and that happened (we can reasonably believe) on the date stated. Others may have different views on this subject, and should record their census data, and construct the wording of their census tags, accordingly.

Create a Census Tag to Record the Family's Enumeration

TMG comes with a standard Census Tag that can be used to record the enumeration of persons in a census, providing basic functions. Since the census is a very common source and rich in family information, many users have devised various types of census tags to provide greater functionality. These enhancements may improve data recording and/or data output functions.

I strongly urge users to think through their objectives before starting to create census tags. Exactly why are you creating a census tag? The features one would desire in a census tag are highly dependent upon one's general approach to recording and displaying census information. Some ideas one might consider:

The rest of this article reflect the conclusions I reached on those points, and the custom census tags I designed in response to those conclusions.

Terry's Census Tags

My primary objective for Census tags is to create "snapshots" of where the family was living, which members were present, and some clues about the family's lifestyle, such as other family members living nearby, and any signs of the family's economic situation. This information is primarily designed to appear in narrative reports and websites. I strive not to record again in the census tag information I record in other tags, as described above.

My Census tags are intended to record the fact that the family was enumerated in the census, who was present, and some details that do not seem to fit easily elsewhere. This seems to me to work better than creating a series of Living tags, which beg the question of how long did they live there, and why are you showing just these particular dates?

I do not include a transcript of the census record. Since all my census data now comes from on-line images, I find that keeping a copy of each image, filed by year, state, county, and head of household, works quite well for me.

Some users, while not creating an actual transcript, prefer to record in the census tag details from the census, such as spelling variations (or just errors) of names, and the age and place of birth shown for all members of the household. In my view, that information belongs in the Citation Details of the Name tags, Birth tags, or other tags for which the census is cited. I see no need to repeat it in the Census tag.

I create a separate Tag Type for each census year. This lets me see the year at a glance in the person view, because the year is in the tag name. It also allows me to vary roles and sentence structures by year where needed.

As I said above, my objective is to provide "snapshots" of the family at the census years. To me these snapshots are more understandable if the relationships between those living in the household are stated in the narrative, even when that information is not stated by the census record. Thus the output of my census tag, in the narrative for the head(s) of household, lists all the members of the household, and states the relationships to the head(s) of the household. In the narratives for each of the other members of the household, that person's relationship to the head(s) is stated. When a married child with spouse and/or children are present, those relationships are also stated in the narratives for those people.

Some users create these statements of relationships by creating extensive sets of Roles, then creating complex sentences that attempt to automatically generate text stating all the relationships. The main complexity comes from trying to deal with all the relationships actually found between members of the household. They have to account for the possibility of one or more than one child, and if more than one, of the same or different sex. Then, there are lots other kinds of relationships that members of the household have to the head of household, – daughters-in-law, sons-in-law, with or without their children, mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters... the list goes on and on with endless combinations. Constructing a sentence structure that can produce satisfactorily worded text for all those possibilities is extremely difficult, if not just impossible.

I use instead a more modest approach, which deals automatically with only the most common relationships – parents and their children. All other relationships are addressed by entering appropriate text in the tag memos. I believe this system is not only simpler to manage, but also produces better, more natural, text in the output. That is because for each household with an unusual set of relationships, the output is custom crafted to describe it in the best way.

Some important caveats about my Census tags:

The details of my Census tags are provided in these three articles:

A Census Tag for 1850 and Later - provides all the features described above, designed for a census record that names each member of the household.

Census for 1840 and Prior - provides most of the features described above, designed for a census record that names only the head of household and provides counts by category of the others.

A Basic Census Tag for 1850 and Later - a simpler version, which I formerly used, that does not list household members in the head of household narrative, nor reflect relationships. I have kept the description because many users find the simpler method adequate for their needs.


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