Here are some helpful hints and FAQ's (Frequently Asked Questions) about working with and transcribing census records. If you have any hints or transcription questions please let us know.

Please refer to the Census Years Covered up to 1925 that there were state censuses for. Also find a list of what was included on each one.

Question Answer
What should I do if I want to be a volunteer transcriber? Have a look at the IAGENWEB volunteer page and sign up! Click on the "Volunteers" menu item to the right.
How is the transcribing accomplished?

You would pick a county and a census year you would like to transcribe.  You would then coordinate your work with the State Census Coordinator and we would work together to assure that the work is being done properly.

Initially, data may be transcribed into Excel Spreadsheets, or into other spreadsheet types. (See Templates)

The Census Coordinator will then put the final touches on the data and then make sure it is published on the web.

Where do I find out if a census for a particular county has been done? Please check the Status Page

or check the IAGenWeb county home page and see if there is a link to it from there. Errors do happen, and its best not to assume the status page is totally correct before investing time and money.

How do I know what to transcribe?

Basically, ALL of the data is transcribed, for a given census year.

Each column on the microfilm(s) is to be copied accurately into the database which the transcriber produces.

If I don't use a spreadsheet, how are the ASCII/Text data delimited, or identified according to the data elements, such as name and place, etc. ? Please contact State Census Coordinator for information on how to enter data into a text file.
What about word processors and proportional fonts?

It will not work to enter transcribed data into any word processor which is programmed for Proportional Fonts. It will not permit consistent column-delimited results.

This is what might happen to the transcribed data if a "proportional font" is used:
Jonson      Ole       Norway
Jonson      Bereth            Wisconsin

What do I need to copy from the Original Microfilm? COPY ALL THE INFORMATION ON THE CENSUS FORM. (With possible exception of such things as: How much grain the farmer raised.)
How exactly should the information be transcribed? NAMES:
  • Copy names exactly as indicated on the film -- no not add to, or shorten, them. Example: If the name is "Wm", do not extend it to "William".
  • Questionable letters in a name should be indicated by an asterisk ( * ) Example: Johns*n - Blackb*** - ****field
  • Place Titles such as: Jr. Jun. Sr. Dr. at the end of the persons first name(s) (e.g. William Jefferson jun. Garrett )
  • The last word in the name field should be the proper surname. (e.g. Change Mc Farland to McFarland )
  • For individuals with no last name, just leave the field blank; Examples names that have no surnames: Brother Ignatius and Sister Mary; American Indian Names; Servants; etc.....
  • If there is no entry for a document field, leave the field blank. (e.g. if no age is given, do not change it to "0", just leave it blank.)
  • Ditto Marks -- '' -- If the enumerator used ditto marks, replace the ditto marks with the intended information.
  • Sex -- Enter as Upper Case one-letter Code -- M or F
  • Age -- Enter a value: e.g., enter infant as 8/12 for 8 months.
  • Enter an "X" to indicate Married, Att. School, Read/Write, Deaf, in Militia, voter, etc.
  • Use to record additional information from Census Record in quotes, or your own comments without quotes.
  • Enumeration Title Information, Enumeration date - Enumerator etc. can be entered on the Common Info tab of the file/spreadsheet.
Page Numbers:
  • Use the stamped page number that the enumerator used. Use the handwritten number if a stamped number is not present.
Unreadable Fields:
  • Partial -- enter what can be Read, and then use an asterisk to indicate missing letters. Example: Des Mo****
    Use a question mark (?) for letters of an indeterminate length.
Other Information:
  • All other comments from the census document can be placed in the Common Info tab of the spreadsheet.

More Questions & Answers

Question Answer
Can I use MS Excel to enter the Transcription? Excel can be used to transcribe the Microfilms. Please go to Templates or contact the State Census Coordinator to request instructions and a copy of the spreadsheet.
I have a Macintosh -- How can I Transcribe Census Records? Templates for the Mac version of Excel and Open Office are available. Clarisworks has a "save as Excel" feature, and may be more likely installed on a home Mac than Excel.
How can I Transcribe The Census Microfilm Records The following are suggestions on how to Transcribe:
  1. Transcribe from digital images.
  2. Transcribe directly from the microfilm to your computer, (preferably to a laptop).
  3. Transcribe from Photocopies of the microfilm to your computer.
  4. Transcibe from digital photgraphs taken of originals or microfilm.
  5. Transcribe from a Video Tape of the microfilm to your computer.
  6. Transcribe from the microfilm to an audio tape, and then to your computer.
  7. Transcribe to intermediate paper forms, and then from that to your computer; but this is a lot of extra work and may produce additional errors.
What is the IAGenWeb policy regarding the transcribed census records? The following notice will appear on all finished pages: "The submitter has granted permission to the IAGenWeb Project to utilize the files permanently for free access on IAGenWeb state or county pages."
What can I do with my transcription of the census record once it is completed?
  • Send the completed files to the State Census Coordinator
After a copy is posted in the IAGenWeb Census Project, you can:
  1. Post a copy on your county IAGenWeb website.
  2. Donate a copy to the Local Genealogy Society.
  3. Donate a copy to the County Libraries.
  4. Publish the transcription, or permit your local genealogy society to publish it.
  5. Do all or none of the above.
How long will it take to Transcribe the Census Records?
  • This various dramatically! About 50 to 150 individual records can be entered into your computer each hour. Typically you would only want to work maybe two to four hours per day, maximum.
  • The length of time to complete a reel depends on the amount of film, or the actual number of individuals on the film.
  • A Note of Caution: Please try to take 5-minute breaks every hour, or as needed, to help prevent becoming overly tired.
Helpful Hints When Working with Census Records
  • To read difficult Microfilm use a yellow tinted transparent sheet. It enhances the print & takes out the gray tones.
  • Go to for a great tutorial on reading old handwriting. It has pictures and everything you might want.

State Abreviation Codes

AL Alabama KS Kansas NC North Carolina
AK Alaska KY Kentucky ND North Dakota
AZ Arizona LA Louisiana OH Ohio
AR Arkansas ME Maine OK Oklahoma
CA California MD Maryland OR Oregon
CO Colorado MA Massachusetts PA Pennsylvania
CT Connecticut MI Michigan RI Rhode Island
DE Delaware MN Minnesota SC South Carolina
DC District of Columbia MS Mississippi SD South Dakota
FL Florida MO Missouri TN Tennessee
GA Georgia MT Montana TX Texas
HI Hawaii NE Nebraska UT Utah
ID Idaho NV Nevada VT Vermont
IL Illinois NJ New Jersey VA Virginia
IT Indian Territory, 
NH New Hampshire WA Washington
IN Indiana NM New Mexico WV West Virginia
IA Iowa NY New York WI Wisconsin
        WY Wyoming

Questions, comments, or suggestions are welcome. Please email the State Census Coordinator.