Reconstructing a Family Using 2 Numbers on the Census

It’s a sad fact that many of our ancestors lost a child. Some families lost several children. Discovering the existence of these children helps us reconstruct the family and helps put them and their experience in context. There are two numbers in the 1900 and 1910 censuses that can help us do that.¬†

Number of Children, Number of Children Living

In the 1900 and 1910 federal censuses, there were two questions asked of women: the number of children they had and how many of them were living. We can use these numbers to discover the lost children and narrow down when they were born and when they died. When we compare the numbers from these two censuses, we can reconstruct the family.

Reconstructing the Family

In the 1900 census, Mary C. Clark is shown as having 5 children, 3 of whom were living. Here’s the family in 1900:

1900 census showing Mary Clark with 5 children, 3 living.
Sherman Clark household, Royalton, Fairfield County, Ohio, 1900 Federal census, ED 2, sheet 1B. Image courtesy

We can reconstruct the children in the family to this point:

  • Winnie M., born April 1890
  • Ivy, born December 1896
  • Frank A., born September 1899
  • child, born and died before 1900
  • child, born and died before 1900

Looking at the 1910 census, we see that Mary C. (listed as Catherine) is the mother of 8 children, 5 of whom are living. That’s an increase of 3 more children in total, but only 2 more are living in 1910.

1910 census showing Mary Clark with 8 children, 5 living
Sherman Clark household, Amanda Township, Fairfield County, Ohio, 1910 Federal census, ED 49, sheet 3A. Image courtesy

The three living children from 1900 are still living in 1910. We can reconstruct the family to this point:

  • Winnie M.
  • Iva D.
  • Frank A.
  • Harry R., born circa 1902
  • Carry C., born circa 1907
  • child, born and died before 1900 (we knew this from the 1900 census)
  • child, born and died before 1900 (we knew this from the 1900 census)
  • child, born after 1900 and died before 1910

We know about that last child because there was an increase in the total number of children from 5 to 8. We know 5 of them from 1900 census plus the 2 additional children living in 1910 brings us to 7 children. There has to be another child born between 1900 and 1910. That brings us up to the 8 total children.

Mary C. only had 5 living children in 1910; 3 are deceased. We can see all of the living children in the census. We’ve accounted for 2 of the deceased children already. That leaves only the possibility of the child born after 1900 as being the third child who had died by 1910.

(By the way, we can tell that Mary C. and Catherine are the same person, as she and Sherman are both listed as it being their first marriage and they’ve been married 21 years.)

When we compare the 1900 and 1910 censuses, we can discover the existence of lost children as well as work out estimates of when they were born and when they died. With these clues, we can seek other records such as death records and cemetery records to further document their lives.


Many of our ancestors' families lost children. Here's how you can reconstruct a family using numbers in the 1900 and 1910 censuses.

Posted: October 13, 2016.

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  • One of those little tidbits hidden in the census records that gets overlooked. This post is a good reminder to everyone.

  • Another great clue on the 1910 census is the marital status. If either had been married before, it would have shown M2.

  • What a great reminder, this is a great post! It doesn’t matter how many times I see this, it still gets me. Three children lost, something that’s practically unheard of in the U.S. today.

  • Census questions regarding the number of children can be helpful. However, keep in mind it is the woman’s number of children (not necessarily also the current husband’s) and that, like any other question, the questions can be mis-interpreted and mis-reported. Example: one of the women in my database, who had come to the USA without all of her children, reported only the count of those born in the USA.

    • Yes, you need to keep all of that in mind, plus that you don’t know who gave the information to the enumerator.

    • back before 1900 people didn’t speak of the dead. I remember hearing my Grandmother talking about a lady who would get pregnant and the baby was too big to come out [EDIT – ajc] and how sad it was. she finally had a “pin head” baby, and was so happy she had him, but sad because he wasn’t “normal”.
      But none of this shows up in the census records.

  • Thank you for the reminder, Amy. When I see these extra helpful bits of info on more relatively recent census records it makes me wish I could go back in time and slap some sense into the folks who designed the pre-1850 censuses. Clearly they didn’t have the best interest of genealogists at heart.

  • I sometimes find a large number of children born to the mother decreases between censuses. I guess someone forgot what they reported ten years before. Also, I believe Catholic women may have reported more premature/stillborn/miscarriages born to them than other mothers. Can you comment on this?

    • To your first point, we need to remember that we don’t know who gave the information in these censuses. Was it the woman, the husband, or the neighbor next door? Did the enumerator explain the question? Did the woman understand? (Someone gave me an example recently of a woman who apparently only included the children born in the United States.)

      I haven’t noticed Catholic women recording a larger number of stillborn or miscarriages than non-Catholic mothers, so I really can’t comment on that.

  • I have seen this a few times in my searches. I feel a sadness for these women when I think of how it affects mothers today and realize these women in the past would have the same feelings it amazes me the resilience of these women to carry on. I have great admiration for them.

  • My great grandmother had two children in 1900. The 1910 it mentioned that she had given birth to 10 and 8 lived, according to this Census. One her children that appeared on the 1900 was missing on the 1910 Census. I have not been able to find any other information about this child’s death or burial. The other missing child was not identifiable by a name because the child must had past between Census. I have not been to find any information on this child i.e. birth, death, etc.