Applications of Online Censuses and Other Official Records

  • William Sims BainbridgeEmail author
Part of the Human–Computer Interaction Series book series (HCIS)


Of great value for family historians are government documents such as census forms, records of legal disputes, medical files that document the lives of doctors as well as patients, and the great number and diversity of records from religious organizations, stored both in their archives and in public places such as old newspapers. Online commercial services such as are a good starting point, as illustrated by a student-oriented project using the Gilbreth family publicized in the 1948 book and 1950 movie, Cheaper by the Dozen. Combining multiple records, from the 1915 Rhode Island census as well as from six decennial US censuses, provides a framework to organize the evolving structure of that family, as it moved geographically, and as members were born and died. Economists and sociologists make heavy use of the historical censuses, and in the period 1994–2003 the National Science Foundation helped set up several census data centers across the United States, but they are not open to ordinary citizens, because of privacy and cost issues. Legal records very in terms of how public versus private they are, and a private document dating from 1951 illustrates how online searches can place legal records in the context of a particular family’s turbulent history. Similarly, medical records are typically protected from public view, but two cases of temporary insanity reported in anonymize form in 1927 become more relevant historically when the real names of the patients are revealed, with connections to other data online about their lives. The chaotic life of a clergyman is documented by a series of newspaper articles dating from 1893, and internal records of a church dating from 1906. Each such example not only highlights the historical value of a different kind of official record, but also suggests interesting insights about the fundamental tensions in family life.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Independent historianChantillyUSA

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