Clues in Census Records, 1850-1930
Updated December 2, 2002
Place of birth
Date of marriage
Number of children
Researchers who use these and other clues in census records will be more successful--and thorough--in their genealogical research.
This essay is adapted from "Clues in Census Records, 1850-1920," The Record, Vol. 4, No. 3 (Jan. 1998): 26-27.
Clues in Census Records, 1790-1840
Experienced genealogical researchers use clues found in one record to find other records about the same individual. Although the first six federal decennial censuses taken from 1790 through 1840 contain less data than those taken later, they still contain useful clues that should not be overlooked.
Date of Birth
The 1790-1840 censuses generally named only the head of household but reported the age of each household member in age categories. For example, the 1810 census reported the number of free white males and females in these age categories:
"Under ten years of age"
"Of ten years, and under sixteen"
"Of sixteen, and under twenty-six"
"Of twenty-six, and under forty-five"
"Of forty-five and upwards"
While the age range provided by age categories does not indicate an exact date of birth, it at least gives a "ballpark" figure useful (1) for tracking the head of household from one census to the next, especially if other people have the same name, and (2) for tentatively estimating the composition of the family, which the researcher must confirm from other records.
For example, in 1810, the household of Alexander Tackles of Warsaw, Genesee Co., NY, consisted of two males age 16-26 (sons Alexander Jr. and John B.), one male over age 45 (Alexander), one female under age 10 (daughter Sophronia), one female age 16-26 (daughter Polly), and one female over age 45 (wife Philena Howard). The census provided the age ranges of family members; names and exact dates of birth of Alexander's family members were obtained from other records.
The 1840 census reported the name and exact age of Revolutionary War pensioners; examples are given in the next section.
The 1840 census asked for the names and ages of "Pensioners for Revolutionary or Military Services, Included in the Foregoing [Household]." Pensioners included both veterans and widows. For example, veteran Alexander Tackels, aged 85, was enumerated in the household of Jonathan Arnold in Middlebury, Genesee (now Wyoming) Co., NY, and the widow Chloe McCullar, aged 81 1/2, was enumerated in the household of W.W. Blake in St. Albans Township, Licking Co., OH.
This clue should lead the researcher to Revolutionary War military service and pension records. The pension files, which are especially useful, have been reproduced in NARA microfilm publication M804, Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files (2,670 rolls). Military service records are also available on microfilm; for more information see listings for Record Group 93, War Department Collection of Revolutionary War Records, in Microfilm Resources for Research: A Comprehensive Catalog (Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 1996), which is available online or for purchase.
Since elderly persons usually resided with kinfolk, the pensioners' presence in these households should be a clue that the pensioner may be related to someone in the household. For example, William W. Blake's wife's maiden name was Nancy McCullar; she was one of Chloe McCullar's children.
Immigration and Naturalization
The 1820 census reported the number of "Foreigners not naturalized" in each household; the 1830 census reported the number of "ALIENS--Foreigners not naturalized" in each household. For example, the 1820 census for Geauga County, Ohio, reported that these households included aliens:
Number of Aliens
John Graham 2d
Although these censuses do not specify which person or persons in the household were aliens, this clue should alert the researcher (1) to search for known household members in immigration records, (2) to be alert to clues in other records that point to the suspected immigrant's possible foreign origins, and (3) to search for possible later naturalization records for the suspected immigrant. Unfortunately, however, there are relatively few ship passenger lists (immigration records) before January 1, 1820, when the Federal Government began requiring such lists to be presented to collectors of customs.
Occupation and Economic Data
In 1810, the U.S. marshals and their assistants who took the census were instructed to obtain information about manufacturing. However, since they were not told what questions to ask, the information collected varied widely. For example, Eli Waste of Wilmington, Windham Co., VT, owned one loom that produced the following yards of cloth: 60 woolen, 50 linen, 10 cotton, and 50 mixed fabrics, while James Weston [sic, Westurn] of Orwell, Rutland (now Addison) Co., VT, owned seven sheep, one spinning wheel, and one little spinning wheel that produced 25 yards of woolen cloth and 15 yards of linen cloth.
Clues about livestock may lead to personal property tax records, kept by the county treasurer, county auditor, or equivalent official.
The 1820 census reported the number of persons in each household who engaged in agriculture, commerce, and manufacturing.
If household members engaged in agriculture (i.e., were farmers), the researcher should check for deeds and mortgages in the county recorder's office or equivalent agency, and for real and personal property tax records kept by the county auditor, county treasurer, or equivalent official. Not all farmers owned land or livestock, of course, but it is always worthwhile to check all extant records for the place where a person is known to have lived.
If household members engaged in manufacturing, the researcher should examine NARA microfilm publication M279, Records of the 1820 Census of Manufactures (27 rolls). According to the instructions given the U.S. marshals and their assistants, persons engaged in manufacturing included both (1) both employees in "manufacturing establishments" and (2) "artificers, handicrafts men, and mechanics whose labor is preeminently of the hand, and not upon the field." The manufacturing census schedules in M279 include information about:
Three cautions are in order, however:
First, a person listed as a manufacturer in the population census may not be included in the 1820 manufacturing schedules in M279. For example, M279 contains information about 13 manufacturing establishments in Batavia (now Middlefield), Burton, Chardon, and Parkman Twps., Geauga Co., OH, but the population census lists 60 households in the same townships in which one or more persons were engaged in manufacturing!
Second, a household may include only persons "engaged in agriculture" according to the population census, yet have a manufacturing schedule in M279. For example, M279 includes a manufacturing schedule for a pot and pearl ashery owned by "Ives & Doty" of Parkman Twp., Geauga Co., OH, yet the population census reported Jesse Ives and Asa Doty's households only included persons "engaged in agriculture."
Third, persons who are not listed as head of household in the population census may have a manufacturing schedule in M279. For example, Daniel Earle, Oliver Gavitt, and R.W. Scott are all listedin M279 as manufacturers in Parkman Township, Geauga Co., OH, but are not named as heads of household in the population census anywhere in the county.
The 1840 census reported the number of persons in each household who engaged in mining; agriculture; commerce; manufactures and trades; navigation of the ocean; navigation of canals, lakes, and rivers; and learned professions and engineers. Again, researchers should check land and tax records kept by county officials, especially when the household was engaged in agricultural pursuits.
Experienced genealogical researchers use clues found in one record to locate other records about the same individual. However, it is always best to thoroughly exhaust all extant records for the place where the person is known to have lived, as shown by the above analysis of the surprises found in the 1820 manufacturing schedules for Geauga Co., OH.
This essay is adapted from Claire Prechtel-Kluskens, "Clues in Census Records, 1790-1840," The Record, Vol. 4, No. 5 (May 1998).
Updated February 28, 2005
On January 10, 1921, a fire in the Commerce Department building, Washington, DC, resulted in the destruction of most of the 1890 census, to the woe of researchers ever since. For more detailed information, see Kellee Blake, "'First in the Path of the Firemen:' The Fate of the 1890 Population Census," Prologue: Quarterly of the National Archives, Vol. 28, No. 1, pp. 64-81 (Spring 1996), Part 1 and Part 2.
Some fragments of the 1890 census did survive, however, and they are very useful to researchers. The surviving parts include:
(1) General population census schedules
(1) General Population Census Schedules. Over 6,160 persons are included in the surviving fragments of the general population census schedules for 10 states and the District of Columbia reproduced in National Archives Microfilm Publication M407, Eleventh Census of the United States, 1890 (3 rolls).
Roll 1 includes only Perryville Beat No. 11 and Severe Beat No. 8, Perry Co., Alabama.
Roll 2 includes only Q, R, S, 13th, 14th, 15th, Corcoran, and Riggs Streets, and Johnson Avenue in the District of Columbia.
Roll 3 includes:
· Columbus, Muscogee Co., Georgia
· Mound Twp., McDonough Co., Illinois
· Rockford, Wright Co., Minnesota
· Jersey City, Hudson Co., New Jersey
· Eastchester, Westchester Co., New York
· Brookhaven Twp., Suffolk Co., New York
· Twp. No. 2, Cleveland Co., North Carolina
· South Point Twp. and River Bend Twp., Gaston Co., North Carolina
· Cincinnati, Hamilton Co., Ohio
· Wayne Twp., Clinton Co., Ohio
· Jefferson Twp., Union Co., South Dakota
· Justice Pct. No. 6, Mountain Peak, and Ovilla Pct., Ellis Co., Texas
· Pct. No. 5, Hood Co., Texas
· Kaufman, Kaufman Co., Texas
· Pct. No. 6 and Justice Pct. No. 7, Rusk Co., Texas
· Trinity Town and Pct. No. 2, Trinity Co., TX
These schedules are indexed by National Archives Microfilm Publication M496, Index to the Eleventh Census of the United States, 1890 (2 rolls). Roll 1 contains surnames A through J and Roll 2 contains surnames K through Z. The index is arranged by surname, then by first name.
These special schedules report the following information: name of the veteran (or if he did not survive, the names of both the widow and her deceased husband); the veteran's rank, company, regiment or vessel, date of enlistment, date of discharge, and length of service in years, months, and days; post office address of each person listed; disability incurred by the veteran; and any additional remarks about the veteran's service. For example, the schedule for Windsor Twp., Ashtabula Co., Ohio, reports that Amos H. King, post office Windsor, Ohio, was a private in Co. K, 105th Ohio Infantry. He enlisted August 10, 1862, was discharged June 24, 1865, for a total of 2 years, 10 months, and 14 days service, and was a prisoner 32 days. Although this census was intended to enumerate Union veterans and their widows, census takers often included Confederates and veterans of earlier wars.
(3) Oklahoma territorial schedules have been reproduced in National Archives Microfilm Publication M1811, First Territorial Census for Oklahoma, 1890. (1 roll). The census was taken on and after June 1, 1890. The following information is included for each person enumerated:
(4) Lists of selected Delaware African-Americans whose names appeared on the 1890 census survived by a quirk of fate, and have been reproduced in National Archives Microfilm Publication M1919, List of Selected African Americans from the 1890 and 1900 Federal Population Censuses of Delaware and Related Census Publications "Agriculture in the State of Delaware" (1901) and "Negroes in the United States" (1904) (1 roll). In addition to the lists of selected African Americans from the 1890 and 1900 censuses, this microfilm publication also includes government publications useful to general Delaware and African American historical research.
(5) Statistics of Lutheran congregations may be useful if you are researching someone who was a member or minister of a Lutheran
congregation in 1890. National Archives Microfilm Publication M2073, Statistics of Congregations of Lutheran Synods, 1890 (1 roll) reproduces a list of
each Lutheran church or local organization compiled by the Census Office from information submitted by officials of the Lutheran officials. The records are arranged by
synod, then by State, then by locality. For each church or local organization, the following information is given in seven columns: (1) town or city, (2) county, (3) name
of organization, (4) number or type of church edifice, (5) seating capacity, (6) value of church property, and (7) number of members. The church edifice column indicates
the number of buildings used or owned by the church, or the type of building in which the church meets. The type of building used is frequently indicated as
"rented," "h" (probably "house"), or "sh" (probably "schoolhouse"). Note that names of ministers or members are not
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