Children's Dept
Location & Hours
Registration Policy
Borrowing Policies
Staff & Board
History of the BPL
Mission Statement

Tips and Examples for Finding a Census Record on Heritage Quest

Head of the Household

While searching for a census record on Heritage Quest keep in mind that only the head of the household may be indexed. This is typically a male unless the household is headed by a widowed or single female. Persons residing within a household who had a different last name from the head are also included in the index. Although only the head of the household is indexed, the other members will be listed on the actual census page after 1840.

To find Otis Bowen in the 1920 census, you need to look for his father, Vernie Bowen. Doing a Basic Search on Heritage Quest with Surname (last name) field "bowen" and Given Name "vernie" gives us one result for 1920. Click on the link to view the 1920 results and then click on Bowen to view the census image. You should find Vernie Bowen is a school teacher, his wife's name is Pearl, Otis is not quite 2 and he has an older sister, Esther.
Too Many Results?
Vernie is not a common given name. If you do many searches on Heritage Quest you will probably encounter the message that your results have exceeded a limit. You can narrow your searches by selecting a year and/or state.
Did not find the right person?
When I look at the 1920 census image for Otis Bowen's family, I interpret his father's name as "Verner". It makes me think perhaps the index was edited by someone who knew what the given name should be. You probably will not be as lucky when you search for your own ancestor. Uncommon names have the advantage of narrowing down the search results, but the disadvantage of frequent mispellings. The use of nicknames, a middle name, or an initial instead of the first name provide additional problems for the searcher. If you know the locality, it may be best to leave the given name and/or the surname field blank in your search. Try the Advanced Search for even more options.

Page Numbers

Census records are organized by enumeration districts. Pages are often identified with the letter A or B following a page number, example page 3A is followed by page 3B. If you do not see the name you are looking for after clicking on a person's name in the search results, there may be a note at the top of the image that "The name you've found is on 1 of 2 subpages." Be sure to check the next page


The search engine at familysearch.org can also be used to find census records. This website is provided by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. You can also view some census records directly on familysearch (1850, 1860, 1870, 1900, and parts of 1920). Searching for a census record on familysearch.org offers several advantages over searching on Heritage Quest.

  • The familysearch index includes all individuals, not just the heads of households.
  • Searches on familysearch default to a loose spelling matches.
  • You can use ? and * as wildcard characters.

If you can not find your family on Heritage Quest, give familysearch.org a try. If you find a census record on familysearch for which that web site does not provide the actual image, you may be able to use the information provided to locate the record on Heritage Quest. The familysearch result may reveal an alternate spelling or give you locality information that will allow you to use the advanced search form more effectively on Heritage Quest.

Incorrect Spelling/Information

Information on the census may have been supplied by a neighbor, an employer, or someone with an accent. The census taker may have guessed at spelling or the handwriting may have been misread by the indexer. Some families purposely changed the spelling of a name over time. Try alternate spellings or use advanced search options.

1890 census

Most of the 1890 census was destroyed by a fire.

1930 census

Most of the 1930 census has not been indexed for Heritage Quest. However, you can use the search engine at familysearch.org to find 1930 census records.

If you do a search on Heritage Quest with surname "bowen" and year 1930, you find that Indiana is not yet loaded into the index. Go to familysearch.org and enter given name "otis" and surname "bowen". Remember, familysearch.org has indexed all individuals, not just the heads of households. Click search. Scroll down the results and look for Otis Bowen, born 1918 in Indiana. If necessary, you can filter your results to show only the census year you are seeking. When you click on the correct Otis Bowen, you will find the family of Vernie and Pearl Bowen, but no image is available. To view the actual 1930 census image, go to Heritage Quest and click on the FIND BY PAGE NUMBER tab of the Census Search form. Select the 1930 series, enter roll 588 (given as the NARA Publication in familysearch.org result). The familysearch result provides an image number that can be used to find the approximate page number on Heritage Quest. You will also need the enumeration district (ED) and sheet number. Divide the image number found on familysearch by 2. If the result is greater than 10, then subtract 2 from the result. This will get you a number close to the page number on Heritage Quest. In this example, the Bowen family is image number 360. Enter 178 as the page number on Heritage Quest. Hopefully, this will get you a census page in the correct state, county and township. If not, use the page navigation buttons to move forward or backward to the correct locality. Once you are in the correct locality, scroll to view the upper right corner of the census image. Compare the ED and sheet number with those provided by the familysearch.org result. The Bowen family is in ED 6, sheet 3A. Use the page navigation button to move back two pages to sheet 3A. Otis Bowen is listed on line 36. His father is a school teacher, his parents were 18 and 16 when they married, and Otis now has 3 younger siblings.

Still Can't Find Your Family?

You can browse the census by clicking on the "Browse" link above the Search Census form. You will need to select the year and locality information to get started.

If you have tried alternate spellings, advanced searches on Heritage Quest, browsing and searched on FamilySearch and still can not find your family in a census, it is possible that they were simply not included that particular year. They may have been on the move or simply not home when the census taker came to call, or the census taker may have missed their street or house.

1940 census

The 1940 census will be released to the public on April 2, 2012. If you want to find your family in the 1940 census before it has been indexed, work through this One Step 1940 Census Tutorial Quiz.