Census Records Guide
Explanation of Census Records Used Throughout
- The United States government has conducted a census of each state and territory every ten years since 1790 and, in some places, other years, for the purpose of apportioning representatives to the lower house of Congress.
- To protect the privacy of the individuals whose names appear in each schedule, population schedules are restricted for seventy-two years after the census is taken and are not generally available.
- Population censuses are arranged by state and within each state by county; within each county by township or enumeration district; and within each district households are listed as they were taken by the enumerator as he went door to door. The 1790 census schedules – those parts available – were published by the government in the early 1900s and have since been privately reprinted. Published census schedules for 1790 are for Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Vermont. The schedules for the remaining states – Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, New Jersey, Tennessee and Virginia – were burned during the War of 1812. Substitute schedules, made from names in state censuses or tax lists, have been published for many of the missing states.
- Federal census records from 1790 through 1840 contain little genealogical information. Only the head of household is given by name; all others in the family are counted only in specific age groups by sex.
- The 1850 census was the first to include the name of each person in a household, including age, sex, color, occupation, and birth place (state, territory or foreign country) and value of real estate and personal property (usually just for the head of the household).
- In 1870 the census gave the month of birth if born during the year, the month of marriage if married within the year, and whether the father or mother of each individual was foreign born.
- The 1880 census added two valuable pieces of information: the relationship of each person to the head of the household and the birthplace of the father and mother of each person.
- The 1890 census was largely destroyed by fire in 1921 and only fragments of it are available.
Census Takers or Enumerators
Census records cannot always be relied on as accurate. Persons giving the information may not have known the exact ages or places of birth of each member of the household. And there’s always been vanity about ages. In some cases people aged only five years in the ten years between the censuses! Census takers spelled what they heard and many of them spelled badly. And apparently they weren’t hired because of their penmanship.
- Many enumerators were not well qualified.
- Some enumerators did not follow instruction
- (i.e. initials only, no birth places listed, etc.)
- Some enumerators used unfamiliar abbreviations and ditto marks
- (i.e. Conn., Ct., Cn., Cnct. were all used for Connecticut).
- Incorrect information was sometimes given by family members. Memory might be poor. Most people did not read or write. Incorrect information was sometimes given due to lack of understanding the question. If adults were not home, sometimes answers were requested of small children or neighbors or the enumerator guessed the answers himself. Families were sometimes left off the census because they were away visiting relatives. Some families lived in multi-dwelling units or remote country dwellings and were overlooked. Some families were missed, due to the length of time it took to take the census.
Source: The USGENWEB Census Project, http://www.us-census.org
U.S. Census Records
The Federal Census has been undertaken every ten years since 1790. Census records can provide snapshot descriptions of families, including names, ages, places of birth, and occupations. It is important to note that information found in a census may not be completely reliable, since people sometimes reported inaccurate information and census officials did make errors.
The 1900 census schedules give for each person: name; address; relationship to the head of the household; color or race; sex; month and year of birth; age at last birthday; marital status; if a wife is listed within the household, then the number of years married, number of children born of that marriage, and number of children living; places of birth of each individual and of the parents of each individual; citizenship; if the individual is foreign born, then the year of immigration and the number of years in the U.S.; the citizenship status of foreign born individuals over age 21; occupation; whether or not person can read, write, and speak English; whether home is owned or rented; whether or not home is a farm; and whether or not home is mortgaged.
The 1910 census schedules record the following information for each person: name; relationship to head of household; sex; color or race; age at last birthday; marital status; length of present marriage; if a mother, number of children and number of living children; place of birth; place of birth of parents; if foreign born, year of immigration and citizenship status; language spoken; occupation; type of industry employed in; if employer, employee, or self-employed; if unemployed; number of weeks unemployed in 1909; ability to read and write; if attended daytime school since September 1, 1909; if home is rented or owned; if home is owned, free, or mortgaged; if home is a house or a farm; if a survivor of Union or Confederate Army or Navy; if blind in both eyes; and if deaf and dumb.
The 1920 census schedules record the following information for each person: name; relationship to head of household; sex; color or race; age at last birthday; marital status; place of birth; place of birth of parents; if foreign born, year of immigration and citizenship status; year of naturalization; mother tongue; language spoken; occupation; type of industry employed in; if employer, employee, or self-employed; ability to read and write; if attended daytime school since September 1, 1919; if home is rented or owned; if home is owned, free, or mortgaged; if home is a house or a farm.
The 1930 Federal Census was released to the public on April 1, 2002. It includes information about place of abode, name of each person living there, relationship of each person to the head of the family, information about the home (including value if owned), personal data (including sex, age, marital status and age when first married), education, place of birth of the person and the person’s parents (usually the country), mother language, citizenship (including year of immigration and naturalization status), occupation, employment, veteran status, and farm schedule (if applicable).
Source: Ackman & Ziff Family Genealogy Institute, Center for Jewish History, New York http://genelogy.cjh.org
The Sixteenth United States Census will be released to the public in April 2012. A number of new questions were asked including where people were 5 years before, highest educational grade achieved, and information about wages. One in 20 people were asked additional questions on the census form.
U.S. Census – Background
The US Federal Census is taken because it was mandated by our Constitution. George Washington signed the papers making this act a law in 1790. The Constitution directs that there will be “an enumeration of inhabitants”, and nothing more.
In 1790, the U.S. population was 3,231,533. This did not include slaves or the untaxed Indians. One of the main goals of the census was to provide information on men eligible for the military. We had only recently gained our independence from England and the men of the day knew it was important to assemble a viable military, if the need arose.
The federal census is taken every 10 years, in the year ending with zero. Individual states often took their own Census in some of the years between the federal enumeration. The state census was taken mainly for the purpose of taxation.
Much of the 1790 Census was destroyed by the British during the War of 1812. Some states were totally destroyed, others only partially. Whenever possible, tax lists from that era are used as an alternate source for names. The 1890 Census was also destroyed. (note: by a fire in 1921)
The law states that the census shall remain private for 72 years. This is to encourage truthful answers and accurate information. Not much of a negative consequence could happen after 72 years. Most of those listed would be gone. Because of the 72-year law, the latest Census available to the public is the one taken in 1930.
Census Takers: Who were they?
Everyday people like you and me. Some were young, some old. In the earlier censuses, they were usually men on horseback, carrying their clipboards with blank census sheets ready to be filled with information. They may have been school teachers on summer break or farmers trying to supplement their income. They came from all walks of life. They all knew how to read and write and they usually lived in the area they enumerated.
The government paid them to go door to door with the goal of getting a head count of all people living in the United States. Then, as today, some were excellent workers, producing accurate, legible records. They took pains to get all pertinent information and record it on their papers. Others, however, were mainly interested in payday and did less than an admirable job.
The census taker could walk many different paths to cover his territory. There was no instruction on the direction he should take, only that he must cover the entire territory assigned to him. In farm land and early times, the paths of the census takers often meandered in strange patterns.
When people weren’t home or only children were present to answer the census questions, some workers filled in the blanks from their own knowledge or gave educated guesses. Usually, however, questions were answered by an adult of the household, making the information generally correct.
Source: Treasure Maps, Genealogy E-Mail Newsletter, Robert Ragan http://amberskyline.com/treasuremaps
Census Enumeration Dates
1790 Census: Begun Aug 2, 1790
1800 Census: Begun Aug 4, 1800
1810 Census: Begun Aug 6, 1810
1820 Census: Begun Aug 6, 1820
1830 Census: Begun Jun 1, 1830
1840 Census: Begun Jun 1, 1840
1850 Census: Begun Jun 1, 1850
1860 Census: Begun Jun 1, 1860
1870 Census: Information as of Jun 1, 1870 (also may identify Civil War survivors)
1880 Census: Begun Jun 1, 1880 (anyone born or died after Jun 1 were not to be included)
1890 Census: Begun Jun 1, 1890 (due to a fire, only a fragment of records are available)
1900 Census: Begun Jun 1, 1900 (birth mo & yr, # of yrs married, # of children born & died)
1910 Census: Begun Apr 15, 1910
1920 Census: Begun Jan 1, 1920 (information as of Jan 1, 1920, even if status changed)
1930 Census: Begun Apr 2, 1930 (included veteran status and if a radio was owned)
I presume someone in the family served as a census taker as this 1910 Census Badge was in the belongings of my mother, Noreen Ellen (Chatfield) Clemens, born in 1915. Made of stamped pewter, the plain reverse side has a large thick pin spot-welded onto the frame. Rules for using the badge are found in the official 1910 U.S. Census Instructions to Enumerators. It concludes: The badge “must not leave your possession, but may be retained as a souvenir after the completion of the enumeration.”