United States Census

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A census is a count and description of the population of a country, colony, territory, state, county, or city. Census lists are also called “schedules."

A well-indexed census is one of the easiest ways to locate the specific places where your ancestors lived and to identify the dates when they lived there. You can also find excellent family information, particularly in more recent censuses. Use the information with caution, however, since the information may have been given to a census taker by any member of the family or by a neighbor. Some information may have been incorrect or deliberately falsified.

Federal Censuses[edit | edit source]

Censuses have been taken by the federal government every ten years since 1790. The censuses through 1930 are available to the public. These counted the population as of the following dates:

1790-1820 First Monday in August
1830-1900 June 1 (June 2 in 1890)
1910 April 15
1920 January 1
1930 April 1

The following types of schedules were taken in various years:

  • Population schedules (residents in an area) in all years
  • Mortality schedules (those who died during the 12 months prior to the census) from 1850 to 1885
  • Pensioners' or veterans' schedules (veterans and their widows) in 1840 and 1890
  • Slave schedules (slave owners and the number of slaves they owned) in 1850 and 1860
  • Agricultural schedules (data on farms and the names of the farmers) from 1850 to 1880
  • Manufacturing or industrial schedules (data on businesses and industries) 1810 (fragments only), 1820, and 1850 to 1880

Federal Population Censuses[edit | edit source]

The federal population schedules are especially valuable because they list such a large proportion of the population, most are well-indexed, and they are readily available at many repositories.

Unfortunately, portions of the federal censuses, usually the earlier years, have been lost or destroyed. The 1890 population schedule was destroyed by fire except for 6,160 names.

The National Archives and the Family History Library have complete sets of the existing 1790 to 1930 censuses on over 18,000 microfilms. These are listed in the Locality Search of the Family History Library Catalog under [STATE] - CENSUS - [YEAR]. Most state archives and university libraries also have copies of the census microfilms, particularly for their own states. (See the state research outlines for more information about each state.) If you can provide the specific pages, the National Archives and the Family History Library will make photocopies.

In 1885 the federal government helped five states or territories conduct a special census with population and mortality schedules. The Family History Library has microfilm copies of the 1885 census for Colorado, Florida, Nebraska, New Mexico, and Dakota Territory.

Information in the Federal Population Censuses. You will find the following types of information in the population censuses:

1790 to 1840. The population schedules for the 1790 to 1840 censuses give the name of the head of each household, and the number of others in the house grouped by ages and sex.

1850 and later. The 1850 and later censuses list the names, ages, occupations, and birthplaces (country or state only) of each member of a household. The 1870 census also indicates if the individual's parents were foreign born.

1880 and later. The 1880 and later censuses add the birthplaces (country or state only) of each person's parents. They also identify relationships to the head-of-house.

1900 and 1910. The 1900 and 1910 censuses include the age of each individual, how many years he had been married, his year of immigration, and his citizenship status. The 1900 census also gives the month and year of birth. For mothers it lists the number of children born and surviving. The 1910 census identifies Civil War veterans.

1920. The 1920 census gives ages but not the month and year of birth. It also lists the year of naturalization.

Abbreviations in the census records.

Indexes to the Federal Population Censuses. Search available indexes before using the actual census records. The following is a general description of census indexes that are presently available. See the state research outlines for more detailed information for each state.

The information in an index may be incomplete or incorrect. If you have reason to believe your ancestor should have been in the census, search the census regardless of the information in the index. In large cities, learn the person's address by searching the city directory. for the same year as the census (see the “Directories” section of this outline). Then look for that address on the original census schedules starting in 1880. Prior to 1880 it may be helpful to learn the ward where a person resided.

1790 to 1870. All of the existing 1790 to 1860 censuses and most of the 1870 census have statewide indexes. These have usually been printed and may also be on microfilm, microfiche, or compact disc. There are also many indexes of individual counties, often published by local genealogical societies. Many of these are listed in the Locality Search of the Family History Library Catalog under one of the following:

[STATE] - CENSUS - [YEAR] - INDEXES

[STATE], [COUNTY] - CENSUS - [YEAR] - INDEXES

Master Indexes[edit | edit source]

Some of the indexes mentioned above are combined into composite master indexes of several census years, states, and census types:

FamilyFinder™ Index and Viewer: Version 3.0 [Novato, California]: Brøderbund Software, 1995. (FHL compact disc number 9, 1995 index). FamilyFinder and Family Tree Maker are trademarks of Brøderbund Software, Incorporated). No circulation to Family History Centers. Single, composite index of 1790 to 1850, most 1860 and many 1870 federal censuses, scattered tax lists and state (non-federal) censuses, a few 1850 and 1860 federal slave schedules, and some federal mortality schedules.

The FamilyFinder Index is also available on the Family Tree Maker™ Internet web site. You can search the FamilyFinder Index for free. It displays the census year and state for each name matching the search. Once you know the year and state, you can use the original index on compact disc, microfiche, or book to obtain enough data to easily find the name in the original census schedules. The FamilyFinder Index includes the following Jackson indexes:

Jackson, Ronald Vern. AIS Microfiche Indexes of U.S. Census and Other Records. Bountiful, Utah: Accelerated Indexing Systems. International, 1984. (No FHL fiche number, but available at many Family History Centers.) Includes indexes of federal 1790 to 1850 censuses, a few 1860 censuses, and scattered slave schedules, state tax lists, and non-federal censuses. A composite federal mortality schedule index is on Search 8. For more information see the AIS Census Indexes Resource Guide (30970).

1880. For the 1880 census, the federal government created statewide indexes to households with children who were born between 1869 and 1880. These are “soundex” (phonetic) indexes that group names together by how they sound rather than how they are spelled. For example, the name Smith and all similar spellings (such as Smythe or Schmidt) would be listed together under the soundex code S-530. These indexes are on microfilm and are listed in the Locality Search of the Family History Library Catalog under [STATE] - CENSUS - 1880 - INDEXES. Instructions on how to use the soundex are provided in the catalog.

1890. The few remaining names listed in the 1890 population schedules have been transcribed in:

Nelson, Ken. 1890 U.S. Census Index to Surviving Population Schedules and Register of Film Numbers to the Special Census of Union Veterans. Revised Edition. Salt Lake City, Utah: Family History Library, 1991. (FHL book 973 X2na 1890; 1984 edition on film 1421673 item 1. Another index is on FHL films 543341-42.) All surviving veterans schedules are indexed except for Ohio and Pennsylvania. Veterans schedules for states in alphabetical order from Alabama through Kansas and half of Kentucky were destroyed.

1900. For the 1900 census, there are statewide soundex indexes on microfilm for every household. The 1900 indexes are listed in the Locality Search of the Family History Library Catalog under [STATE] - CENSUS - 1900 - INDEXES.

1910. There are soundex and miracode (similar to soundex) indexes for 21 states in the 1910 census. These states are Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia.

Some cities and counties are indexed separately from the state in the 1910 indexes:

  • Alabama: Birmingham, Mobile, Montgomery
  • Georgia: Atlanta, Augusta, Macon, Savannah
  • Louisiana: New Orleans, Shreveport
  • Pennsylvania: Philadelphia County
  • Tennessee: Chattanooga, Knoxville, Memphis, and Nashville

The 1910 indexes are listed in the Locality Search of the Family History Library Catalog under [STATE] - CENSUS - 1910 - INDEXES. There are also published indexes to the 1910 censuses for Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada, and Wyoming.

For the unindexed states of the 1910 census see:

Buckway, G. Eileen. U.S. 1910 Federal Census: Unindexed States: A Guide to Finding Census Enumeration Districts for Unindexed Cities, Towns, and Villages. Salt Lake City, Utah: Family History Library, 1992. (FHL book 973 X2bu 1910; fiche 6101340.) Lists towns (or wards) with their 1910 census enumeration district numbers and FHL film numbers. Major cities each have special instructions which often mention a city directory with FHL book or film numbers.

1920. There is a complete soundex to the 1920 census. The state by state 1920 soundex and population schedules are listed in the Locality Search of the Family History Library Catalog under [STATE] - CENSUS - 1920. Unlike other census years, the soundex and schedules are listed in the catalog together.

Boundaries of Federal Enumeration Districts[edit | edit source]

Federal census records are arranged by census year, by state, and then usually alphabetically by the name of the county. The term subdivision was used in early censuses to refer to part of a supervisor's or marshall's district. Beginning in 1880, these geographical areas were called enumeration districts. If there is no index to a census and you know the address in a large city or county where an individual lived, you can use the descriptions of the geographical areas or enumeration districts to more quickly search the census. These are listed in the Locality Search of the Family History Library under UNITED STATES - CENSUS - YEAR:

  • 1880 enumeration district descriptions (FHL films 1402860-62)
  • 1900 enumeration district descriptions (FHL films 1303019-28)
  • 1910 enumeration district descriptions (FHL films 1374001-13)
  • 1920 enumeration district descriptions (FHL films 1842702-21)

For the 1910 census there is an index on 51 fiche that can help you identify the enumeration districts by address in 39 cities. (If you need to learn an individual's address, see the “Directories” section of this outline.) This index is the:

United States. Bureau of the Census. Cross Index to Selected City Streets and Enumeration Districts. Washington, DC: National Archives, [1984]. (FHL fiche 6331480-81 [set of 51].)

To locate maps of the census districts in large cities, see the description of ward maps in the “Maps” section of this outline. For maps of county boundaries during each census year, 1790 to 1920, see the Thorndale and Dollarhide book listed in the “Maps” section.

Special Federal Censuses[edit | edit source]

The following are other major types of census schedules created by the federal government:

1840 List of Pensioners. When the 1840 census was taken, the enumerators listed living pensioners of the Revolutionary War or other military service; they listed pensioners' ages and persons with whom they were living. These names are published in:

A Census of Pensioners for Revolutionary or Military Service. 1841. Reprint, Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1967. (FHL book 973 X2pc 1967.)

An index to this is:

A General Index to a Census of Pensioners for Revolutionary or Military Service 1840. Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1965. (FHL book 973 X2pc 1965; fiche 6046771.)

1890 List of Union Veterans. Along with the 1890 census, schedules were made of Union Civil War veterans or their widows:

United States. Census Office. 11th Census, 1890. Schedules Enumerating Union Veterans and Widows of Union Veterans of the Civil War. Washington, DC: National Archives, 1948. (FHL films 338160-277.) Only the schedules for the states alphabetically from Kentucky (partial) through Wyoming exist. Military installations and ships, especially in the District of Columbia, follow Wyoming. These are on 118 films at the National Archives and the Family History Library. There are also published indexes for the states with surviving schedules, except Ohio and Pennsylvania. These indexes are listed in the Locality Search of the Family History Library Catalog under [STATE] - CENSUS - 1890 - INDEXES.

Federal Territorial Censuses[edit | edit source]

The population of territories was often listed by the federal government in anticipation of statehood. These were generally taken in the years between the federal censuses. These censuses are usually incomplete and most are not indexed. A special census was made in 1885 for Colorado, Florida, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, and South Dakota. The Family History Library has copies of most of the territorial censuses. These are listed in the Locality Search of the Family History Library Catalog under [STATE] - CENSUS - [YEAR]. You can find further information about special censuses in research outlines available for each state.

Mortality Schedules[edit | edit source]

Mortality schedules are lists of persons who died during the twelve months before 1 June of the census years of 1850, 1860, 1870, and 1880. Colorado, Florida, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, and South Dakota also have mortality schedules for 1885. The Family History Library has copies of most of the available mortality schedules and indexes. These are listed in the Locality Search of the Family History Library Catalog under [STATE] - CENSUS or [STATE] - VITAL RECORDS. You can also find mortality schedules in state archives, the DAR Library (see the “Societies” section), and the National Archives. Most of the mortality schedules have been indexed in the FamilyFinder Index (FamilyFinder is a trademark of Brøderbund Software, Incorporated) and Jackson's AIS Microfiche Indexes described under “Indexes to Federal Population Censuses” above.

Colonial, State and Local Censuses[edit | edit source]

Colonial, state, and local governments also took censuses. Non-federal censuses generally have content similar to that of the federal records of the same time period.

Censuses for some towns and counties exist for the early American colonies and for areas colonized by France, Spain, and Mexico. There are also lists of early residents, sometimes referred to as “censuses,” that have usually been reconstructed from other records, such as tax and land.

State censuses were often taken in the years between the federal censuses, such as 1875 or 1892. For some states these exist from about 1825 to 1925. They are found in state archives, and copies of most are on microfilm at the Family History Library. The library's most complete collections of state censuses are for Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin. They are usually listed in the Locality Search of the Family History Library Catalog under [STATE] - CENSUS RECORDS. Several of these colonial, state, and local censuses have been indexed in the FamilyFinder Index (FamilyFinder is a trademark of Brøderbund Software, Incorporated) and Jackson's AIS Microfiche Indexes described under “Indexes to Federal Population Censuses” above. For further details see the state research outlines. Here is a list of state and territorial censuses:

Lainhart, Ann S. State Census Records. Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1992. (FHL book X2Lai.) State-by-state list of censuses, and selected census substitutes. Describes dates, coverage, content, indexes and availability.

Web Sites[edit | edit source]

http://www.census.gov/


See also[edit | edit source]