Finding your Portuguese Roots_1c

Using the LDS Church Records to Trace in America

by Cheri Mello

                                         Copyright 1998- 2015. All rights reserved

(LDS stands for Latter Day Saints; FHC stands for Family History Center) 

1. U.S. Census 

The U.S. began census taking in 1790. But you would start with the 1940 which is the most current year available and begin working back in time by moving from the known to the unknown. A 72-year waiting period exists for the censuses to be released (1940 was released in 2012 to protect the privacy of those people in 1940). In 1920, a fire happened which burned a little bit of the 1920 and most of the 1890 census. If you are looking for your ancestors in 1890, you may want to use the state census, if one existed. Check in the Family History Library Catalog. Many state censuses aren't indexed either. The RI State Censuses are particularly helpful (they exist on the 5 year marks: 1935, 1925, 1915) and are indexed. See Ann Lainhart's "State Census Records." Your local public library probably has a copy. 

Family Search ( and (subscription site) have censuses available on their Website. If you don't have a subscrition, use it via your local public library or FHC. The error rate in the indices is quite great and you will have to play around with various spellings to make your ancestor appear.

The following are some problems with the U. S. Census: censuses were incomplete and inaccurate; the census taker was indifferent; the family may be split between 2 pages; women lied about their age; sometimes the country listed may be the country of the grandparents, not the parents; the census taker couldn’t understand your ancestor’s accent. Always look a few pages ahead and back for other family members (especially in 1880). 

What are they censuses good for? Censuses are really for residence only, but can give many clues (and sometimes the island). The 1940 census asks (among other things): highest level of education, citizen, and many questions about work or unemployment. A few select people had supplemental questions asked of them (on the bottom of the page). The 1930 census asks: age; marital status and age at first marriage; if foreign born, year of immigration to the U.S.; whether naturalized (Na means naturalized, Pa means papers filed, Al means still and alien), veteran of U.S. military and what war. The 1920 census asks: age; marital status; if foreign born, year of immigration to the U.S., whether naturalized and year of naturalization; birthplace of person and parents (I have seen the island listedusually only Azores is written); and mother tongue if foreign born. The 1910 also asks for number of years of present marriage; and for women, number of children born and number now living as well as the same foreign born questions that are in the 1920. The 1900 doesn't ask about the number of children born and living to this mother, but asks for the month and year of birth for all in the household. This is a far cry from the 1810 census, which only asks for name of family head; if white, age and sex; race; slaves. Much information can be gleaned from these censuses. Just keep in mind that they can have errors in them. 

Census can be found at your local FHC, online by subscription at, and a few free census abstracts at

2. City Directories 

Although you may not find many city directories in your local FHC, it seems appropriate to mention them now, after the U.S. Census. Most City Directories are on microfilm, or you could write to the historical society of that area asking them to copy the page(s) for you (include a donation). If for some reason you cannot find your ancestor on a particular census, and you are fairly certain of the locality, you may want to find them in a city directory. A city directory is like our telephone directories of today, but theirs was more of an address book, used mainly for advertising purposes. The earliest directory was 1665 in NY. City directories are good, especially for large cities. One problem though, is jurisdiction. Suburbs are not usually included. (A historical society for that area may be of help in that case). The purpose for using a city directory is that it will put your ancestor in a particular place at a particular time. When using a city directory, copy down the title page as well as the page that you find your ancestor on (or photocopy). Check to see if a map is in that particular directory (some have them.) Read the forward in the front and read the first few pages in the front and in the back. You never know what you might find there. If you see an "H" after your ancestor, it means head of house. "B" means boarder. If you are looking in the 1910 U.S. Census in New England, you will have to use the city directory to get your ancestors' address. You will then look up the address on the fiche, which will in turn tell you the enumeration district to look in. From there you should be able to find them.

© Kathy Andrade Cardoza 2022