Documenting your Research with Census Events

GEDitCOM II is a very flexible genealogy application, which means you have many options for how to document your research with sources such as census records. With all this freedom, however, your data can become disorganized if you do not choose a consistent method for various tasks. No one method is wrong, but this tutorial gives a very robust method for adding census detail to your files. The goal is to have lots of information (scanned image, text transcription, and source information) and to have that information readily available wherever it makes sense.

The Plan

Finding a census record means you probably have obtained a scanned image of a census page. These images are available on many web sites (such as, Canadian public archives,, or Once you have an image, you create one to three new records in your GEDitCOM II genealogy file:

  1. Create a multimedia object with the scanned census page
  2. Create a note record with a text transcription of the census data (optional)
  3. Create a source record for the census year and country (if needed and optional)

Once the above records are done, the remaining steps are to link them to individuals and families in your file:

  1. Attach a census event to one individual in the census record
  2. Copy and paste the event into other individuals and families

After entering some census events, you may want to find more census data to further your genealogy research. A good tool to proceed in this direction is to use the US-UK-Canadian Census Report Extension.

A Multimedia Object with the Scanned Sensus Page

You have gone to the trouble to obtain an image of a census page; you might as well save it in a safe place along with your genealogy files. It can be saved with your GEDitCOM II data several ways; here is an easy one:

  1. Find the image file in the Macintosh Finder and then click and drag the file to the left side ("Records Albums" list) of the GEDitCOM II index window for your genealogy file. You can drag on top of the "Multimedia Objects" album or to white space in that list; the icon will change to a "plus" icon. When ready, release the mouse button to drop the image and add to your genealogy file.
  2. Most likely, you will be warned that the image is not in any of your multimedia library folders for the current genealogy file. It is a good idea to organize all your multimedia into library folders (see the GEDitCOM II help for details). Your best option, therefore, is to click the "Move to Library" button. You will enter a standard Macintosh file save dialog box starting in the main multimedia library folder for your current GEDitCOM II file. Save the image in that folder or in any subfolder in the folder giving it a good name. The file will be removed from its original location, renamed, and saved with your genealogy files. (Note: if you want to keep a copy at the original location too, use the "Copy to Library" button instead of the "Move to Library" button.)
  3. The new multimedia object will be selected in the GEDitCOM II index window. You can open the record and enter a good title (the initial title will be the file name) and enter the date for the census.

Text Transcription of the Census Data (optional)

Reading census images can be a challenge, especially if it is a handwritten record. Many genealogists spend time going over such records, interpreting the handwriting, and writing down a text transcription. If you go to that trouble, it is good practice to document that work with a text transcription in your genealogy data. The simplest method is to:

  1. Create a new note record using the Tree→New Record→Notes menu command.
  2. Type in a plain text version of the transcribed notes into the new record.

Census records are usually in the form of a table of names and data. If you have some familiarity with editing html content, you can use GEDitCOM II's advanced feature that allows html content in notes. It is a great way to display a table and can even provide hyperlinks from the notes to each individual in the census. Furthermore, GEDitCOM II provides some tools to help in entering the html content. Here is the process:

  1. Create a new note record using the Tree→New Record→Notes menu command.
  2. Change the initial "New Notes" text to the name for the census such as "1900 US Census for Gerngross Family"
  3. Control-click anywhere on the notes and choose the popup menu command "Convert to HTML Text with Paragraphs" (like all menu commands in this section, this command is found in the "GEDitCOM II HTML Editing" submenu of the popup menu for the notes text). This command will convert these notes to html content, name it with the text entered in step 2, and also insert that same text into a paragraph element (within <p>...</p> tags).
        Hint: while editing html content, you can always check your results by using the Command-R keyboard command, which toggles between editing and display of the html content.
  4. The next step is to enter the table of data, but you do not need to type in all the html elements by hand. Instead, you type in the text and then use a menu command to convert to a table. The Process is:
    • Start a new line just above the </div> element at the end of the notes and type in the column labels and then the column data for each individual in the census record you are transcribing
    • The columns are separated by one or more space characters. Therefore, if a column contains a space, you must enclose the text for that column within quotation marks (e.g., "George Gerngross"). Additionally, if a column is empty, enter it as two quotation marks (""). When you are done, the table text might look like:
           Name Relationship "Birth M/Y" Age Birthplace Occupation
           "Gerngross Geo" Husb "Nov 1858" 41 Germany Brewer
           Carrie Wife "Mar 1864" 36 Germany ""
      Do not worry about aligning columns (although you can enter extra spaces if you want to make it easier to track columns); all alignment is done in the next step using html elements.
    • Select the text for the labels and all rows of the table and then control-click on the selected text and choose the command "Insert/Convert Table" command from the popup menu.
    • Type Command-R to check the table results in html display. Hopefully it will be all correct. The most common error is improper alignment of the columns, such as missing columns or forgetting to enclose column data with spaces in quotes. You can either fix the problems by editing the html content or undo the table conversion (with Command-Z), fix the plain text, and then convert to a new table. The later method is usually easier. The example text above will now render as a well-aligned table:
      Name Relationship Birth M/Y Age Birthplace Occupation
      Gerngross Geo Husb Nov 1858 41 Germany Brewer
      Carrie Wife Mar 1864 36 Germany  
  5. You may want to enter more information from the census record, such as information that appears at the top of the census page. You can enter that text within the <p>...</p> element with the title (above the table) or in a new <p>...</p> element below the table. The above example, might change the text above the table to include place and address for the family:
         <p>1900 US Census for Gerngross Family<br>
         Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Philadelphia City Ward 29<br>
         1322 27th Street</p>
    Inserted text below the table could document other information not transcribed in the columns (such as race, sex (if not obvious), languages spoken, etc.).
  6. One feature of html content in GEDitCOM II notes is that you can insert hyperlinks to records in the notes. To add links within the notes, use following steps:
    • Select the entire text of an individual's name
    • Control click on the selected text and choose the "Insert Hyperlink to Individual" menu command and select the individual record to be linked.
    When you view the rendered html content (use Command-R to see it), that person's name can be clicked to open their individual record. You can repeat for any names in the census who are also in the genealogy file. You can also insert links to family records if desired, by selecting any text and using the "Insert Hyperlink to Family" menu command.

A Census Source Record

The first two steps in this tutorial create a multimedia object for the census scanned image and create a notes record with a text transcription, but census information is a source for your genealogy research. It should somehow be tied to a source record as well. You could create a new source record for every census page you find, but this approach may end up with too many source records and does not provide a good method to locate all the census information you have found for a given country and year. The method recommended here is to create one source record for each country and year (e.g., 1900 US Census, 1911 Irish Census, 1881 British Census, etc.). You can then attach all images and transcribed notes for that census to that single source. When viewing that source record, you can quickly see all the data you have found in the that census year. It may help visualize relationships between families. The process is:

  1. Create a new source record using the Tree→New Record→Source menu command.
  2. Enter a title such as "1920 US Census"
  3. Author and Publisher are a little vague or you can enter something like "US Government"
  4. Enter the census date
  5. You can now attach transcribes notes for all census pages for that year and country (by clicking the notes icon in the "Attach" section or by dragging notes record to the source)
  6. You can also attach all images of census pages for that year and country. In my opinion, many images can clutter the source record and I prefer to just attach the transcribed notes. The images are available if needed.

Create a Census Event

Once the multimedia, note, and source records are done, you are ready to start attaching events to the individual and families in the census data. The first step is to open the record for the head of household individual and attach one event as follows:

  1. Open the individual record and click on the "Events" tab
  2. Click the plus icon in the "Events and Attributes" section (or use the Attach→Event/Attribute... menu command) and pick to attach a census event
  3. Enter the date and place for the census
  4. Click the "info" icon for the census event
  5. Enter person's age (if known) and address (if known) for the census
  6. Use the "Attach" buttons to attach the image, notes, and source records created above; you now have all census details accessible from the event detail

Copy and Paste the Census Event

The next step is to add census events to all other individual and families documented in the census. You do not have to repeat the steps in the previous section. Instead, you can use GEDitCOM II's feature to copy and paste events:

  1. Open the individual record with the first census event and click on the "Events" tab
  2. Click in the date or place field to select that event
  3. Use the "Copy Event" menu command (or click the button in the "Default Format")
  4. Navigate to any other individual or family from the census data and click on their "Events" tab
  5. Use the "Paste Event" menu command (or click the button in the "Default Format"). The complete census event will be attached. If possible, the paste will even calculate the person's age on the date of the event and replace the one entered above.

Using the US-UK-Canadian Census Report Extension

Once you have added some census information, you may want to add more. A good tool to help you decide where to look next is the "US-UK-Canadian Census Report" Extension in the "Reports" submenu of the Extensions menu. To use it select that Extension and then:

  1. Choose which census events to investigate — US, UK, or Canadian.
  2. Click "All" to look at all individuals in the file or "Selected" to look at just the records currently selected in the front window. The script checks dates for the chosen census events, but does not try to verify the person actually lived in that country. One way to get a more focused report is to make an album and add all individuals from one country (US, UK, or Canada) for whom you would like to gather census information. Before running the script, open that album in the index window and select all the records. When the script runs, choose the "Selected" option in this step.
  3. Enter an expected age at death. This is used to evaluate the likelihood that someone is alive on a certain census date when your data does not have their death date.

A census report will appear in a new window listing all individuals that might be in a census. It only lists individuals with known birth dates because otherwise there is no way to determine if they were alive on specific census dates. The table cells will be color coded:


The above method may seem like a lot of work, but it looks harder in a step-by-step tutorial then it is after you are familiar with the steps. The full process only involves creating three records and one census event and then copying the census event to all individuals and families in that census record. When you are done, the census details will be available from all individuals and families through their "Events" pane. If you want to see every one in your file in a particular census (e.g., the 1900 US Census), you can open the one source record and see all attached transcriptions and images. If you click the "Citing Records" button or use the View→Referenced By... menu command while viewing the source, you will see a list of everyone documented in that census.

This tutorial explains one method for documenting census records. You can devise your own (and GEDitCOM II provides many options). The method you choose, however, works best if it is consistent.