Census records around the world

When I am doing workshops on Critical Family History, I often work with people whose parents were immigrants, or who themselves are immigrants. What kind of census records are available from around the world? The answer is: More than you might think, and more than I thought until I sat down to take a close look.

Although I try to steer people to sites where they can search for free, Ancestry.com has the largest database. For example, on Ancestry you can search:

  • Census records from England, Scotland, Wales, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, covering every decade from 1841 to 1911.
  • Swedish Selected Indexed Household Clerical Surveys, 1880-1893.
  • The Argentinian National Census for 1868 and 1895, and for Buenos Aires, 1855.
  • Russian Duma Voter Lists for 1906-1907; Jewish Families in Russian Empire Census for 1897, and the Grodno Gubernia Voters List for 1912.
  • The census of Western Ghana for 1984.
  • For Germany, the census of Mecklenburg-Schwerin in 1819, 1867, 1900, and 1919; and the census of Lübeck in 1871, 1875, and 1880.
  • New Zealand’s Electoral rolls from 1853 to 1981, and the Maori Voter and Electoral rolls for 1908 and 1919.

How would you go about finding out what vital statistics Ancestry has for a given country? It’s actually quite easy. Let’s say you have Philippine ancestry. On the Ancestry homepage, you will see a box that looks like this:

Search Box on Ancestry

Search Box on Ancestry

Enter “Philippines” as a place your ancestor might have lived (the box above is a picture, you need to do this directly in Ancestry), and hit Search. If you know your ancestor’s name, you can enter it, although if your main purpose is to find out what databases there are, don’t enter a name. Just the country will do. At the time of this writing, this search will not yield a census, but you will locate Select Marriages 1723-1957, and Select Births and Baptisms 1642-1994. You’re now off to a good start!

Another database you might try is World Vital Records, which archives genealogical material from all around the world. It gives you a free 7-day trial, then you need to pay to access the records. In the search box on the home page, you can enter the name of an ancestor and country to see if anything comes up. If not, then this probably is not a database you’ll want to use.

I have also been able to find country-specific databases by using Google to search with the following terms: country name + census + genealogy. (Without the term “genealogy,” you will get websites about a country’s census, but not necessarily something searchable.) For example, entering the country name “South Africa,” I located South African Genealogy. One of the links on that page that caught my eye took me to a searchable National Archival Information retrieval system. The same search method, this time for Kenya, took me to Forebears — Kenya Genealogical Records.

When I did the same kind of search for India, I located not a searchable census database, but rather a useful webpage about Tracing your Roots on the Indian Subcontinent, produced by the BBC.

Elsewhere, I have also reviewed census databases for specific places, including Mexico and East Asia, specifically China, Japan, and the Philippines.

So before you assume that vital statistics are not available online from elsewhere around the world, try the searches described here. You might be pleasantly surprised. 

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