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Census Returns

Original census returns are not alphabetized or indexed, the writing is sometimes difficult to read, and the spelling is inconsistent.  It is very wise to treat all data derived from census returns cautiously.  Nevertheless, they can be valuable research tools in spite of the weaknesses.  Census returns list every member of the family and provide essential information not found elsewhere.  They must be used in conjunction with parish, vital statistics, probate, land and other records to give an accurate picture of a family.  Study the agricultural reports that accompany the enumerations because they provide details on acreage under cultivation, crops grown, and the cash value of produce, livestock and machinery.  These can provide interesting information on an ancestor's financial status and material possessions.  As information is extracted from censuses, carefully footnote year, county, parish, division, ward, page and microfilm reel number.

Census records may or may not contain accurate information.  The enumerators in earlier censuses were not well educated nor were those they interviewed.  Mistakes in documenting facts and details happened.  Watch out for age differences between censuses to ensure that an individual ages the appropriate amount of years.  A child's first name in one census may be different in the next census.  A new child may have the first name of a child who died between census returns.  Many women died at childbirth and a husband may have had a new wife at the next census.  Birth dates recorded by a census may be different from what is inscribed on a gravestone or found in a death record.  Census records do not contain married women's maiden surnames.

Some residents in a community or Parish were not listed due to enumerator error, poor directions or, due to an unnoticed path to a remote but occupied property or, no one was at home when the enumerator called.  In addition, some residents avoided the enumerator due to future taxation fears. 

Be aware of possible inconsistencies and contradictions.  Phonetic or "sounds like" surname spellings will often throw you off on a search.  Try to sound out your ancestor's surname as it might have been written down.  A surname spelling by an enumerator, although appearing odd to you, may really be your great grandfather.  Today we use consistent surname spellings.  In earlier times, it was common and accepted practise to change the spellings of names at will.  Keep this in mind when doing Census research.

Not all census returns survived to today.  Some were lost due to negligence and fires.  The 1851 Census for Kent and Gloucester Counties have not been found.  About 50% of the 1851 Saint John County Census and about 10% of the 1861 Saint John County Census have survived.  The 1871 Saint John Census is also not complete. 

Currently census information is kept confidential by law for ninety-two years, so the most recent material available in 2009 for research, dates from 1911.