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Finding your Irish family in historical US Censuses can be daunting, with so many common given names and surnames. Looking for clusters of Irish settlers may provide you with some clues, and help you get to the answers. Here are five tips for finding your Irish in the US Census.

1. Look at the neighbors. Did a large portion of the community list Ireland as their native country? If so, you might want to carefully examine anyone listed that match the names you are looking for, as they often traveled to America in groups.

2. Where were the children born? Examine the birth locations of everyone in the family. This can assist you in building a timeline for the entire group, and from that, you may be able to estimate an immigration year, or their movement around the United States. Creating a running timeline that includes the entire household and all identified census records can at times give you a year-by-year progression of the family.

3. Work their work. Occupations can provide incredible clues into your ancestor’s life. Utilize this information to seek out other potential record sources; corporation archives may be held in local museums or library systems. Investigate the potential companies in the area they may have been employed with, as well, or look for articles related to the industry in local newspapers. Be sure to examine the occupation as it is listed on the census record, and find a variety of terms that would also be appropriate, to broaden your search. For example, “farmer” could also be “dairyman.”

4. Be flexible with the name. Variants on name spellings are extremely common in the US Census records as enumerators often did not know the proper spelling, or used a version they were familiar with. Try Keane and Keene in your search, and make sure to try to spell the name in as many forms as you can. A great way to test the name is to have a five- or six-year-old spell it; they will naturally spell the name phonetically, giving you even more possibilities.

5. Go to the source. The United States Census Bureau has a great deal of statistical and historical information available, including reproductions of the original census forms and instructions, information on each specific census year and what data was collected, mapping tools, and mobile apps; all designed to help you understand the census process in a more thorough way.

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*Originally published December 2014.