Many, if not most, of the 20th century U.S. census records include fairly precise address information for those living in cities and towns. Even many 1880 census records include at least street-level information.

Some of the earlier census sheets (say 1860 and 1870) don't include street-level data, but do list the ward of the town or city. I'm curious to know whether city wards are useful for genealogical purposes. I'd rather not get into rare, speculative uses, but rather actual uses where ward information can solve some other problem.

  • Hi cleaverkin. I've edited your question to make it less of a poll and to make it objectively answerable. If you feel I've changed too much, feel free to edit it again!
    – Luke_0
    Commented May 7, 2013 at 23:46
  • Cleaverkin, I've made another edit to incirporate a query raise din a comment -- please feel free to roll back if you think it changes the question too much.
    – user104
    Commented May 18, 2013 at 15:43
  • I did, and think it does - city wards can change over time, just as any other electoral districts. But, given a ward map from the time of one census, and a ward map from the time of the ten-years-later census, one MIGHT be able to tell whether or not someone moved. But in what way is that useful? A street address is useful, for example. to determine that a person listed in a passport application is the same person as is listed in the census. I'm looking for anything of similar usefulness that ward information alone could solve.
    – cleaverkin
    Commented May 19, 2013 at 8:04
  • No problem. The person who originally posted the text as a comment can raise it as a new question if they feel that strongly about it. Don't forget you need to to 'ping' me with @colevalleygirl if you want to make sure that I've seen your comment.
    – user104
    Commented May 19, 2013 at 9:26
  • 1
    As a partial answer, ward information might help you identify groups of people living in the same area -- which might indicate shared origins (for example, immigrants) or possible family relationships for further investigation.
    – user104
    Commented May 19, 2013 at 9:30

4 Answers 4


I found an answer to my own question. In the absence of a street address, a city ward number can provide enough locale information to determine which church someone attended. The Roman Catholic church, specifically, has historical parish maps that can be matched against ward maps to make a reasonable guess as to which parish a given ward resident belonged to.


In larger cities, like New York City, you can use a person's assignment to an Administrative District (A.D.) and an Enumeration District (E.D) in a census to get an approximate idea of their A.D. and Election District (also abbreviated E.D., but sometimes slightly different than the other E.D.) for their voter registration. You can then use that information to order copies of their original voter registration files; they're considered public information if they're not too recent, and you can get copies of the files under state Freedom of Information (FOI) laws.

Here's an example, which used a person's home address and A.D./E.D. assignation in the 1925 New York State census to then figure out where to find them in the 1924 List of Registered Voters, which then enabled getting free copies of the original voter files under NY's FOI law: https://www.facebook.com/ReclaimTheRecords/posts/684215591729589


I am not from US, but, if you have region in city and no address, you can still use it to determine where person lived. However you should also answer your other question by determining where this place was - e.g. if you knew that wards 3 and 7 are different places, you'd know they moved. It is generally helpful, though, if you know region they lived in, if you got two possibly connected individuals or families, it's large (possibly rural) area and you can see that they live miles and miles from each other, that's a reason to abandon hypothesis, on other hand if they lived nearby you know you have a reason to look into the matter


I often collect general information about a city for historical background about the area and the times. Discussions of elections and other political goings-on will often refer to how the city voted by Ward. Presumably voter registration lists would be arranged by ward also. I discovered that one of my research subjects was elected as an alderman; knowing the Ward information for all the families tells me at a glance who was in his ward, and who wasn't.

Would this solve some other genealogical problem? In a large city, it might help you separate individuals with the same name. The usual way I discover that I need a particular bit of information is to stumble upon a scenario where it would be useful to have it, only to find that I didn't record it, so I have to go back and look at all my sources again. So over the years, I have leaned toward recording more information rather than less. You can't always know in advance which random bit of information will be the key to unlocking a problem.

Check Google Books, Google Scholar, the Internet Archive, Hathi Trust, JSTOR, and other history / scholarly sites for books that will give you general background information about your city of interest. Town books can have titles like Municipal Register, Annual Report, or similar terms. You can also search for your town's name in WorldCat to find items in a library near you.

Don't forget to look for maps which show the ward boundaries!

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