Posted by Paul Rawlins on June 11, 2010 in Collections, Website

Increased search functionality is the latest improvement to the 1820, 1830, and 1840 U.S. Federal Census databases, each of which has several new search fields. And when I thought of how I might use the new options, I remembered a project I was working on last fall.

I was researching abolitionist John Brown and learned that he moved to Pennsylvania in 1825. Assuming he was still there in 1830, I needed another fact or two to narrow down the 263 possibilities that came up in my search of the 1830 census for a John Brown in Pennsylvania. At the time, I had one real option: location.

The new search fields in the updated census databases would give me another: I could narrow my search by numbers of household members. I admit, this is fairly detailed information, but if I knew that John and Dianthe Brown mostly likely had their five children and two others living with them in Pennsylvania in 1830, I could now narrow my search down from 263 to 13 results by typing “7” into the Free White Persons Under 20 field (and restricting both this field and my PA location to exact matches).

Restricting my search to Crawford County, without household numbers, gives me eight results. Combing both gives me one: the correct one, in this case.

I’m not related to John Brown, and it took me longer to find out that he had five children in 1830 (I’m not sure who the other two young folks were yet) than to discover that he had a farm and tannery near Richmond, Crawford County, PA. But facts are fickle things—you can’t always say which are going to turn up—so I figure, the more options, the better.

And for more on all the census updates at, check out the new Enhanced U.S. Census Collection landing page.


  1. BCarol

    Question for the author: I see that “keyword” search is included as it seems to be for most census searches.

    I have never had any success using the keyword function in regards to any census that I’ve researched.

    Do you have any suggestions as to how to use the keyword search as it applies to the censuses?

    Thanks in advance.

  2. Brown actually moved to Pennsylvania in 1826; he moved back to Ohio in 1835.
    The additional children were probably children residing with the Browns either as the children of tannery employees or local children being school with the Brown children; it was the custom of Brown to share the responsibility of paying a teacher for part of the year, during which time another family’s children stayed with his children while being schooled. Afterward, his children would stay with the other family, which undertook the expense of schooling them all for another season.

  3. Atreegrowsinbrooklyn

    Many, many years ago I visited Gettysburg Battlefield. There was an “introduction” museum there (I believe it held the electronic battlefield exhibit). In one of the display cases was a prison window/door that was marked as having been the one that was from a cell that held John Brown.

    I know for sure I saw this thing. Wonder if anyone else remembers seeing such an item?

  4. worshacf

    BCarol #2

    Your question regarding the “keyword” function, I’m assuming you mean the “Restrict to” function:

    Try using the “Restrict to” when searching records (of any kind) such as on the first name of the person, then playing around with different removals, i.e., year of birth, or surname, parent name, etc. If you get nothing use the “r” key on your keyboard and keep changing the “Restrict to” to some other spot.

    Also, don’t forget to try checking the box for “Phonetic matches”, “Names with similar meanings or spellings” or “Records where only initials are recorded”, and then change the check box as each search comes up with nothing.

    I have found dozens of records by this technique that went unfound before ancestry started this function, it really helps having to go through dozens of records, and I like the feature very much.

    Once you become accustomed to how it works you will find what you are looking for.

  5. Jo


    Why do you “assume” BCarol doesn’t know what she means to ask?

    Do you not see the word “Keyword” on the image of the search form above? Right under the word “More” in Bold.

    This happens so often on this blog and on the message boards it seriously makes me wonder about the reading comprehension of the people who answer questions that weren’t asked and don’t answer the questions that were.

    But to the question at hand…BCarol, thanks for asking that question. I, also, would like to know about the keyword function as it relates to censuses. What words were indexed for keyword searches in censuses, and were occupations ever indexed as keywords and, if so, for which years?

    I really, really hope Paul Rawlins will answer this question!

  6. Marla

    This doesn’t really have anything to do with this, but if I export my family tree to have a copy on my computer, then is my online tree gone?????

  7. bit-o-feedback re: KEYWORD

    i have had much success with Keyword+Exact. often use it to narrow a search within a state, for example Location+Restrict=Pennsylvania & Keyword+Exact=Allegheny or =Pittsburgh
    or Location+Restrict=Florida & Keyword+Exact=Mayo for a town or county where i think my ppl resided.

    and when searching thru results in Directories&MemberLists, i often key in a street name where i know ppl lived to see other family members, for example Keyword+Exact=Hermosa. i review those results and then click AllCategories to see if any other category results are provided.

    i think Keyword is flexible, it gives me another way to cut the data for analysis.

    best wishes to all, happy hunting!

  8. Don

    I choose not to post a family tree on Ancestry. I prefer to conduct and prove my own research but will look at trees posted by others for hints on geographical locations or help in identifying that elusive maiden name. What I have noticed is how out-of-date the death date/location is on so many people, despite the information being available elsewhere on Ancestry. On the assumption that the tree owner is not simply lazy, is it a difficult process to upload an update a tree previously posted? Also, the “living” notation is much too prolific. We can’t have that many century old citizens in this country. Is it automatic that, in the absence of a death date, Ancestry assumes individuals are “living” and thus names and birth dates continue to be hidden? Are there no threshold choices offered to the tree owner, i.e., age 90 or just plain “ignore”. Just curious.

  9. BCarol

    Thanks to all who offered help on “keyword.” I’ve been a member of ancestry since practically day one. I’d like to be of some help here myself.

    First off, I use the “Old Search” when working with ancestry. I find it much more productive than the new search. And yes, in that search, “keyword” does appear on the advanced search function. I would recommend that anyone who has not used the old search function might like to try it. You can enter state, county, township and other info. It’s just that darn “keyword” function that has seemed pretty useless to me. I’ll check out the things suggested above to see if I have better luck.

    Don, I don’t have my tree on ancestry either. But I actively try to connect to those who do post their trees online and help them out with what I have. I’ve solved more than one brick wall that way.

    As for mistakes/omissions/blank spaces for people who may have died well over a century ago… I think that is a factor of not getting all the detailed information input into the online tree. A lot of people want to get their trees up to see if they can find out more. I think it can often be a time factor. Personally, I tend to think it is time constraints.

    I’ve found a number of trees containing my ancestors that have absolutely erroneous information in them. On one of the tree selection, you can do a “post em” to alert the tree owner that their info is not correct. Often they’ve pasted what they have seen in other erroneous trees. Just this past week, I received a thank you from someone who had cut and pasted information from an especially heinously incorrect tree. The owner of the tree will receive an alert that a post-em has been added and if they are truly interested in ‘getting it right’ I help them out. All of my family tree work, over the past forty years, has primary resources and so I can provide them with things such as scans of original documents etc.

    As for the “heinous” tree owner, that person will go unnamed here. I have sent this person primary source material to show them the correct lineage but to no avail. At this moment, this person has seven different trees up on the same family which includes my ancestors.

    Bottom line of course is to check sources yourself before accepting something as fact. I’m sure that many, if not all, of you probably already do it.

  10. Karis

    I know some people are offended but I think I would like receiving a post em note on my tree for an error and I think I would make the correction. This has only happened once for me, but this is actually part of why I have my trees public.

    I have also had little luck with the keyword search, except in old published family trees where everyone has the same surname. I will keep trying.

    One item that is really needed on the above format is a residence date. I can do this by creating the person with the date and residence and then doing a search from the person.

  11. i’m always happy to see ppl are CURRENTLY accessing my trees, it’s the CURRENT ongoing research that i’m interested in seeing. so i choose to cross-check & search from my Home page, RecentMemberConnectActivity, SeeMoreActivity.

    from my Home page, i can easily click on other ppl’s ancestor profiles to compare their source citations with my own. usually gaining reliable information & inspiration to search for additional sources & family members.

    i realize this navigation technique is similar to, but still a little different from, the green leaf AncestryHints, FamilyTrees, which i do use when all else fails.

    best wishes ev’one~~~

  12. BCarol

    Sorry I misspoke on how my tree is presented on Ancestry. I have it marked “private” but if someone is searching an ancestor that is in common with one of mine and finds my tree and then emails me for access, I am more than happy to help them out and give them access to my tree.

  13. Robin

    I too have had little luck with keyword search. I wish there was a search function where you could list known family members and come up with a list that had all those names in the family. In several instances I know a few or even several children names, unsure of location and don’t have a clue as to parents names. If I could type in Susan, Michael, Josiah and Aaron for instance, and get a return for all families that included those names. I am roadblocked in three different instances because I don’t have this function. Thanks for listening anyway.

  14. Hoping this feedback is helpful to someone at ancestry, else i’m just blowing in the wind~~~

    Have located several records in 1830 census.
    The preview is showing redundant number of people in each of the different age categories, if i were to add up then total would exceed the number of people actually being enumerated. The total is correct but the individual age categories are incorrect or misleading at the least.

    Proceeded to click on Save, looking at the Review Record data:
    Residence Date “1830” is in quotes & i have to edit that.
    Residence Location “United States” is in quotes & i have to edit that too.
    sure hope ancestry is working to get rid of those quotes.


  15. When you say “preview”, are you talking about the figures shown on the search results page or the figures shown on the “Record” that you see before seeing the actual image?

    In the first case the age groupings are different due to space limitations and omit slave numbers but I’ve never run into one that was incorrect- can you provide a link to a specific example?

    In the second case each census field is shown and I’ve never seen duplicates- again, can you provide a specific example?

    You are correct that the quote marks around 1830 and United States should not be there.

  16. Baker Re#19

    If you look the first two “1’s” indicate the number of free white males 20-29 and the number of females 15-19.

    The next two “1’s” are summaries
    Free whites under 20 (the female shown as 15-19)
    Freee white 20-49 (the male 20-30)

    The first “2” is again a summary
    Total Free Whites (the male and the female)

    The second “2” is another summary
    Total All Persons (again the male and female)

    I’ll admit it looks a bit confusing but there are no errors there. *Grin*

  17. Andy thank you for taking time to help me understand.
    after reading your explanation, i looked more closely and gee now i see it, same data cut different ways.
    next time i’ll remember to focus first on the final Total, then refer to summaries if i’m searching for a number of children at specific ages.

  18. Marcia Kelso

    i am stuck between John Brown the abolitionist and Mary Brown Kelso the cousin or daughter of John Brown. Where are all the John Brown relatives out there who can fill in the connection. Mary Brown, born 1855, married William A. Kelso of Phillipsburg, New Jerey.

  19. Paul Rawlins

    Louis, thanks for the update. I had only seen the 1825 date, so obviously, I
    need to dig a little deeper.

    BCarol, I think folks have offered some great tips on keywords; I don’t have
    much to add. And with these early censuses, there simply aren’t as many
    words to search, unfortunately.

    Jo, I have asked around, and this is what I’ve come up with so far. 1880 US and 1881 UK censuses are the only ones where occupations were
    keyed, and they are searchable from the keyword field. I’m waiting to hear more, since there isn’t a hard and fast rule about what is available via keyword, and if I learn anything useful, I’ll pass it on.

    Baker, I was going to ask for links to examples as well, but it sounds like your question’s been answered (thanks, Andy).

    Thanks for all the input. It’s made for instructive reading.

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