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  • Writer's pictureTheFormidableGenealogist


The 1850 U.S. census was a marvel. Counting and recording the basic details of every person in the United States for the first time was a huge undertaking. The results provided the government with an incredible amount of population data. The results also captured an amazing amount of details for future genealogists. And because census records are generally the information with which any family history journey begins, the 1850 census is often the historical line past which only serious genealogists venture. The data that is by comparison missing from earlier censuses can just be too slim and too confusing.

One of the details captured for the first time by the 1850 census was the nativity, or birth place, of each person. For some ancestors, their nativity on the 1850 census will offer the only clue to their location prior to 1850.

The U.S. Census Bureau website ( has a wealth of data about the current composition of our nation. But it contains an amazing amount of historical data too. One one the resources I've used is the nativity information from the 1850 census (

The table below is an example that shows where the inhabitants of each state were born, according to the details captured by the census. In 1850, there were 61 people living in Texas who had been born in Delaware. By comparison, there were over 7,000 people living in Texas that year who had been born in Georgia.

That's relevant because of a tip for expanding your family tree (...though it works regardless of which year's census you're looking at). For example, for a married women whose maiden name and/or whose family of origin you don't know, you might be able to determine if possible parents or siblings were in the same geographic area that year. Look for other households containing a resident who has the same nativity as the person you're researching. When you find one, research that person or family to see if you can establish any other common threads.

The tricky part of that approach, however, is having a sense of how frequently a person born in Place A was living in Place B. That's the point at which you can use the tables like the one above. If you're looking for potential relatives of a person living in Jasper County, Texas, who was born in Delaware, finding another Jasper County resident who was also born in Delaware might be a significant lead to investigate. After all, there were only 61 people in the whole of Texas in 1850 who reported being born in Delaware. However, if you're looking in Texas for a person who had been born in Georgia, there were over 7,000 others in Texas with the same nativity. That might be a much less significant clue. Weighing this information against geographic clues--like the size of the place you're looking in--can help you decide which paths to pursue.

Fortunately, similar data from other census years is available! The information on the census bureau page is so abundant that it isn't terribly easy to find, so here are some links to help you. Then search for the word "nativity":


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