A guide to the soundex

Helpful staff and volunteers await the public at the National Archives. Do not fear that this research must be done without assistance. While the staff cannot conduct the research for a patron they are very willing to demonstrate the steps necessary to access the wealth of information in their collection. The research process begins with the Soundex Coding System. According to the publication, Getting Started: Beginning Your Genealogical Research in the National Archives in Washington:

          To find an individual name among the millions listed 
          in the 1900 and 1910 censuses, you will use an index-
          ing and filing system called the Soundex. The Soundex 
          is a coded surname index based on the way a surname 
          sounds rather than the way it is spelled.  Surnames 
          that sound the same but are spelled differently, like 
          SMITH and SMYTH, have the same code and are filed 
          together.  The Soundex coding system was developed 
          so that you can find a surname even though it may 
          have been recorded under various spellings.  
          To search for a particular surname, you must first 
          work out its code.  Every Soundex code consists of 
          a letter and three numbers, like S650.  The letter 
          is always the first letter of the surname.6  

Archives staff can assist with figuring out long or short names as well as names with prefixes. The following is a guide to use at the National Archives Rocky Mountain Region branch. Once the family's Soundex Code is established the following steps help locate the actual census record:


at the Genealogy Research Room

of the National Archives - Rocky Mountain Region, Denver, CO

1.  Using the Soundex worksheet, figure out the family's Soundex code.  It 
    will begin with the first letter of the last name and is followed by 3 
    numbers.  For example HOLLIS = H442.  
2.  Refer to the Catalog of National Archives Microfilm, copies 
    of which are available in the research room, for any of the following 
    years, 1920, 1910, 1900.  Under the state that the family lived in, 
    look for the family's Soundex code e.g. Georgia - H400 - H453.  This 
    catalog will identify the microfilm reel number needed to find the Soundex
    card (the microfilm cabinet and drawer number is written in the margins).  
    Film cabinets and drawers of microfilm at the National Archive are labeled 
    and numbered accordingly. Find the drawer that contains the appropriate film 
    and retrieve the reel.
3.  Load the film onto a microfilm reader.  Similar sounding names are 
    grouped together under the Soundex code on the microfilm.  The Soundex 
    code will be in the upper right/left corner of the index cards on the 
    film.  Search for the first occurance of the family Soundex code.  The 
    names are in alphabetical order by the first initial of the first names 
    e.g. all "Joseph" and "John" listings are grouped together under a specific 
    name, e.g. all Joseph Hollis' are listed together.  Search for the family 
4.  If a relative's index card is found note the following:  the Enumeration 
    District number, or ED# which is located in the upper right corner 
    of the index card.  Write this down!  It will help find the family record.  
    Also copy the county, city, sheet number and the line number.  Rewind 
    and unload the microfilm reel.
5.  Return to the Catalog of National Archives Microfilm and reference the 
    front of the catalog for a listing of states and their corresponding 
    enumeration districts.  With the ED# in hand, search under the correct 
    state for the county and the matching ED# e.g. Georgia - Morgan County - 
    ED 101.  Note the number of the microfilm reel and the film cabinet and
    drawer numbers which are written in the margin and write this down.  This 
    will be the microfilm reel that contains the family's complete census 
6.  Locate the microfilm reel and load it.  The ED# is written in the upper 
    right corner of each census sheet along with the sheet numbers.  
    Search for the family's sheet number, e.g. "18". Each sheet/page has 
    numbered lines.  Scan the page for the family's entry on the correct 
    line, e.g. #3 Hollis, Oliver.   If all goes well, you have hopefully 
    found a legible census record of your family member.
    ·Remember that the Archives staff and volunteers are there to help with 
     family research.  Do not be shy about asking for assistance but be 
     patient if it is a busy day.  The Microfilm Reading Room is small and 
     contains 30 microfilm readers that are assigned on a first-come, 
     first-served basis.  Time restrictions of three hours per person per 
     microfilm reader are enforced if a line begins to form.  Space is 
     tight.  Get there early.

Even though the Hollis soundex code should be H442 my research found that family records were filed under H420. This is the first of 2 1900 Soundex cards for the Oliver Hollis family in Morgan County, Georgia. Note that Lillie the wife and seven children are listed along with their age, birthday, and birthplace information. This is the 2nd index card. Of the seven children listed, the last entry is for a nephew, John Scott.

With regard to the soundex card index, I recorded the necessary information in the upper right corner of the card, i.e. the ED number, volume number, sheet number, and line number. Race is entered as "color" on the line below the name of the head of family in the upper left corner of the index card. The letter "B" is entered for Black. This will prove interesting when compared to racial information that is listed for the Hollis family in the 1910 and 1920 census schedules. It was not enough to record an individual as Black during this time. Complexion proves to be of interest to census enumerators. The age of family members is also interesting to compare to the entries in the 1910 and 1920 census records.

This is the actual 1900 census schedule. Note the upper right corner states that this is sheet number eighteen and line three is where the entry for the Hollis family begins. Unfortunately this record did not scan more clearly for legibility. It is included to show an original census schedule. It is easier to read in microfilm format. Microfilm reader printers at the Rocky Mountain regional branch of NARA are available in order to make a paper copy of the record. |next section| |Table of Contents|

Links to genealogical resources

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Date last modified: 2/98. Send comments to author Deborah Hollis. Note: Copyright 1996 Deborah R. Hollis. Unlimited permission to copy or use is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.