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CENtaR: The GEDCOM Census Table Report

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CENtaRs Rule!

CENtaR will build a concise listing of all GEDCOM CENSus records found in your database and display them in tabular format such that, at a glance, it will be apparent which individuals are missing census records making it very easy to identify those that need further research.

The image below shows a small portion of a typical CENtaR, in this case, mine. Click on the image to see the entire report.

Configuration Options
  • +Root Person ID

    You may select to include all qualifying persons in your report, or you may manually enter the ID of the person in your database whose ancestors are the only persons you wish to be included in your report.

    Include All Qualifying Persons

  • +Census Years

    You may select to autodetect census years or you may manually enter just those years you are interested in. By default these are set for U.S. Federal Census years, but you change them to any years you need and clear out the others.

    Autodetect Census Years


CENtaR is as a free web service. CENtaR uses the same GEDCOM Parser that is used by VGedX Online, my 100% compatible GEDCOM validator. CENtaR, however, supports a special expanded GEDCOM dictionary that will recognize numerous vendor specific events and date formats.

CENtaR includes in its report the Id and name of each person included, the Census years considered, and one of 4 codes for each entry: '-' (not applicable), 'm' (missing), '?' (unknown location), 'XXX' (location), where the location code uses ISO standard codes when possible for identifying places to the "state" level. Further, hovering your mouse over an entry will display source information, if available.

CENtaR also uses the same algorithms used by Vivify, the GEDCOM Birth Date Estimator to calculate accurate and reliable missing birth dates so that each individual considered will only be included if it is determined that they were likely to be living during the specific Census years.

I first introduced the concept of the Census Table Report on my blog in the article Making CENS of it All, but I have been using and publishing my own census tables online for over a decade. I find Census Table Reports to be one of the most useful concepts for identifying areas of needed research. They provide several other benefits as well, such as the ability to see migration patterns and identify those direct ancestors living during the period in which census records were being taken.

In addition, CENtaR supports detecting "Not Applicable" Census records. When a "Not Applicable" Census record is detected, the Census Table Report will be updated to reflect it by changing the missing identifier to the not applicable one. When all years are not applicable, the person will no longer appear in the table. Users can include the text "[Not Applicable]" in any field of the GEDCOM CENSus record to indicate this, except the DATE field as that is the key field identifying the Census year that needs to be ignored. I personally use the CAUSe field, but other fields could be used as well, such as TYPE or NOTE. Indicating that a year is "Not Applicable" to a particular person is an strategy that can be used to clean out invalid entries from the Census Table Report.

It should be noted that CENtaR relies on detecting the GEDCOM CENSus field in your database. Some vendors, unfortunately, do not use this standard GEDCOM tag when adding census records to your database, resulting in CENtaR not being able to match any dates with individuals.

Leave a Comment
  • Scott Ewing
    30 Mar 2014

    Worked like a charm Tim. Thx!

  • Tim Forsythe
    30 Mar 2014


    Converting Ancestry.com's census entries found in your GEDCOM file to actual GEDCOM compatible CENSus records can certainly be done. You can use either the finesse method or the brute force method. As you know, this is high on my list of features to get implemented so users don't have to deal with it, but I have to get the new site up and running first.

    Be sure to backup your GEDCOM file before making the following changes.

    Finesse Method:

    If you search your file for all occurrences of "Census Place:" you'll find all claims associated with Census records. Now change just those entries associated with residence claims by changing their tags from "1 RESI" to "1 CENS". Note, the 1940 U.S. Federal census adds residence tags for 1940 and 1935, so don't change the 1935 residence tag.

    Brute Force Method:

    Do a search in your GEDCOM file for all occurrences of "1 RESI" and replace them with "1 CENS". This will, of course, potentially change a lot of residence tags that are not associated with census records, but if you uncheck the autodetect option above and manually configure your census years, CENtaR won't care.

  • Teaghlach
    30 Mar 2014

    Most of my census sources have been entered into Family Tree Maker through Ancestry.com TreeSync, as seen here: http://timforsythe.com/users/84/sources . I know you're well aware of this problem, but is there a relatively straightforward way to manually edit my GEDCOM so that it would work with CENtaR? Keep up the great work!

  • Tim Forsythe
    21 Mar 2014

    GE, It appears to be a bug in my software. Leaving off the country entirely seems to work, but alternate country names that end in actual country names like in this scenario, don't. I will be able to fix this, but unfortunately not right away. I have my hands full at the moment building an enhanced version of this website.

    As an aside, I now recommend that archaic location names be added to event somewhere other than in the PLAC or ADDR fields. Event or place NOTE fields would seem appropriate. Modern names should be used in the PLAC fields. That is until such time as the GEDCOM standard or its replacement adds built in support for archaic names. The reason I make this recommendation is because many genealogy tools now make use of PLAC fields for looking up mapping coordinates and most of the popular geo-coordinate servers do not recognize archaic names. This goes for ISO name code lookups as well.

  • GenealogyEnthusiast
    21 Mar 2014

    Thanks for adding that so quickly.

    I tried my file again, but it is still not recognizing PLAC entries such as:
    2 PLAC Barton, Gore District, Canada West, Province of Canada
    2 PLAC Hamilton, Canada West, Province of Canada

  • Tim Forsythe
    21 Mar 2014

    GE, I've added the mapping for these.

  • GenealogyEnthusiast
    20 Mar 2014

    Is CENtaR able to be easily extended so that countries and states not in the ISO database are recognized? For example, in Canada, between 1841 and 1867, "Ontario, Canada" and "Quebec, Canada", were called "Canada West, Province of Canada" and "Canada East, Province of Canada", respectively, but CENtaR obviously does not recognize them because they are not in the ISO list. Would this situation arise enough that accommodating it might be a good feature for CENtaR?

  • Tim Forsythe
    10 Mar 2014

    Bev, In the case of census table reports, the error message was wrong. I apologize for that and have fixed it. You are not able to build a census table report for your file because Ancestry.com does not use the GEDCOM census field for holding census records. They instead sprinkle them in places like Residence fields. I need to spend some time looking for a good way to add support for Ancestry.com census entries.

    In the case of A-List, you did actually use an invalid Root Person ID. Try P258 - the first person in your file to test it out.

    In general, Root Person IDs refer to the Level 0 INDIividual record id string. These usually start with an 'I' or a 'P' and are found in a GEDCOM file looking like:

    0 INDI @P258@

    for instance. You should omit the @ signs when entering your id as they are just delimiters.

  • Bev Dittberner
    10 Mar 2014

    HI- I love this site- My problem is I can't seem to generate any report that requires the Root person ID, - I've opened my GED in text edit and the # I think is the root ID is not working. Can you please be a little more specific about how to find the root ID - thanks

  • Tim Forsythe
    13 Jan 2013

    Updated CENtaR to rev 0.92 to handle Census records with missing dates, or more correctly, to ignore them. It was previously assembling them all under the year 9999, which is obviously incorrect.

  • Tim Forsythe
    10 Jan 2013

    Thanks Tony, Ur the man!

  • Tony Timmins
    10 Jan 2013

    Review left at Gensoftreviews as requested.
    Super utility, my database is now fixed. After running this utility I found 365 errors in it!

  • Tim Forsythe
    07 Jan 2013

    Hopefully it works the same as it did when you beta'd it on the Ancestors Now website.

  • Tony Timmins
    07 Jan 2013

    Hi Tim, I have just tried changing the dates to UK census years and checked my latest Gedcom file. Works a treat.
    Many thanks for another useful tool.

  • Tim Forsythe
    07 Jan 2013

    Added support to CENtaR for databases that use GEDCOM's generic event record for containing Census record entries. i.e.

    1 EVEN
    2 TYPE some text Census
    2 DATE 1 JUN 1930
    2 PLAC city, state