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From the site:

http://www.ancestry.com/library/view/news/articles/1260.asp

The information below is an excerpt from The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy, edited by Loretto D. Szucs and Sandra H. Luebking, Chapter 5, “Research in Census Records,” by Loretto D. Szucs.

 

1790 Census

The 1790 census was begun on 2 August 1790. The marshals were expected to finish the census within nine months of the Census Day—by 1 May 1791. Although most of the returns were in long before the deadline, Congress had to extend the count until 1 March 1792. By that time some people probably were counted who had not been born or present in 1790.

Questions Asked in the 1790 Census
Name of family head; number of free white males of sixteen years and older; number of free white males under sixteen; number of free white females; number of slaves; number of other persons; and sometimes town or district of residence.

The 1790 census instructed the marshals to identify, by age brackets, free white males sixteen years of age or older and those under sixteen. It was designed to determine the country’s industrial and military capabilities. Additionally, the first census was to count the number of free white females; all other free persons regardless of race or gender; and slaves. A twenty-dollar fine, to be split between the marshals’ assistants and the government, would be levied against anyone who refused to answer the enumerator’s questions.

Other Significant Facts about the 1790 Census
The Constitution called for a census of all "Persons . . . excluding Indians not taxed" for the purpose of apportioning seats in the House of Representatives and assessing direct federal taxes. The "Indians not taxed" were those not living in the settled areas. In later years, Native Americans everywhere were considered part of the total population, but not all were included in the apportionment figures until 1940.

The government did not provide printed forms or even paper until 1830. It was up to each assistant to copy his census return on whatever paper he could find and post it in two public places in his assigned area. Those who saw and could read them were supposed to check for discrepancies or omissions. The highest pay rate, two cents per person, barely covered expenses, especially where settlers were scattered and living in places that were difficult to find or access.

The jurisdictions of the thirteen original states stretched over an area of seventeen present-day states. Census schedules survive for only two-thirds of those states. The surviving schedules were indexed by state and published by the Bureau of the Census in the early 1900s. Bureau of the Census, Heads of Families at the First Census of the United States Taken in the Year 1790, 12 vols. (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1908), can be found in most research libraries; it has been reprinted by various publishers over the years.

Both the original and printed 1790 census schedules are available on microfilm for Connecticut, Maine (then part of Massachusetts), Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Vermont. The schedules for Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, New Jersey, Tennessee, and Virginia were burned during the War of 1812 (there are substitutes for most of these). Published and microfilmed 1790 schedules for Virginia were reconstructed from state enumerations and tax lists.

Research Tips for the 1790 Census
Because of the availability of the printed 1790 census schedules, researchers tend to overlook the importance of consulting the original schedules, which are readily available on microfilm. As in most cases, the researcher who relies on printed transcripts may miss important information and clues found only in the original version.

The 1790 census records are useful for identifying the locality to be searched for other types of records for a named individual. The 1790 census will, in most cases, help distinguish the target family from others of the same name; identify immediate neighbors who may be related; identify slaveholders; and spot spelling variations of surnames. Free men “of color” are listed as heads of household by name. Slaves appear in age groupings by name of owner. By combining those age groupings with probate inventories and tax list data, it is sometimes possible to determine names of other family members and the birth order of those individuals.

1800 Census

The 1800 census was begun on 4 August 1800. The count was to be completed within nine months.

Questions Asked in the 1800 Census
Name of family head; number of free white males and females in age categories: 0 to 10, 10 to 16, 16 to 26, 26 to 45, 45 and older; number of other free persons except Indians not taxed; number of slaves; and town or district and county of residence.

Other Significant Facts about the 1800 Census
Most 1800 census entries are arranged in the order of visitation, but some have been rearranged to appear in alphabetical order by initial letter of the surname.

Research Tips for the 1800 Census
The 1800 census records are useful in identifying the locality to be searched for other types of records for a named individual. The 1800 census will, in most cases, help distinguish the target family from others of the same name; help to determine family size; locate possible relatives with the same name; identify immediate neighbors who may be related; identify slaveholders; and spot spelling variations of surnames. Free men “of color” are listed as heads of household by name. Slaves appear in age groupings by name of owner. By combining those age groupings with probate inventories and tax list data, it is sometimes possible to determine names of other family members and the birth order of those individuals.

1810 Census

The 1810 census was begun on 6 August 1810. The count was due within nine months, but the due date was extended by law to ten months.

Questions Asked in the 1810 Census
Name of family head; number of free white males and females in age categories: 0 to 10, 10 to 16, 16 to 26, 26 to 45, 45 and older; number of other free persons except Indians not taxed; number of slaves; and town or district and county of residence.

Research Tips for the 1810 Census
The 1810 census records are useful in identifying the locality to be searched for other types of records for a named individual. The 1810 census will, in most cases, help distinguish the target family from others of the same name; help to determine family size; locate possible relatives with the same name; identify immediate neighbors who may be related; identify slaveholders; and spot spelling variations of surnames. Free men “of color” are named as heads of household. Slaves appear in age groupings by name of owner. By combining those age groupings with probate inventories and tax list data, it is sometimes possible to determine names of other family members and the birth order of those individuals. Manufacturing schedules are scattered among the 1810 population schedules.

1820 Census

The 1820 census was begun on 7 August 1820. The count was due within six months but was extended by law to allow completion within thirteen months.

Questions Asked in the 1820 Census
Name of family head; number of free white males and females in age categories 0 to 10, 10 to 16, 16 to 18, 16 to 26, 26 to 45, 45 and older; number of other free persons except Indians not taxed; number of slaves; and town or district and county of residence. Additionally, the 1820 census for the first time asked the number of free white males 16 to 18; number of persons not naturalized; number engaged in agriculture, commercial, or manufacture; number of “colored” persons (sometimes in age categories); and number of other persons except Indians.

Research Tips for the 1820 Census
The 1820 census records are useful in identifying the locality to be searched for other types of records for a named individual. The 1820 census will, in most cases, help distinguish the target family from others of the same name; help to determine family size; locate possible relatives with the same name; identify immediate neighbors who may be related; identify slaveholders; and spot spelling variations of surnames. Free men “of color” are listed as heads of household by name. Slaves appear in age groupings by name of owner. By combining those age groupings with probate inventories and tax list date, it is sometimes possible to determine names of other family members and the birth order of those individuals.

The added questions in the 1820 census break down ages so that it is possible to gauge the age of young men more accurately. However, the redundancy of asking the number of free white males “Between 16 and 18,” and “Of 16 and under 26,” “Of 26 and under 45,” “Of 45 and upwards,” is frequently cause for confusion in attempts to calculate the total number of persons in a given household. The column regarding naturalization status may be some indication of length of residency in the United States and the possibility of finding naturalization papers in a local court.

The questions asked regarding number and nature of those involved in agriculture, commercial, or manufacturing enterprises allow researchers to make some distinctions about the occupation of the head and any others in the household who were employed. Some, though admittedly not much, identifying information is available where schedules go beyond stating the number of “colored” persons and provide an age breakdown as well. The 1820 manufacturing schedules are on twenty-nine separate rolls of microfilm

1830 Census

The 1830 census was begun on 1 June 1830. The enumeration was to be completed within six months but was extended to allow completion within twelve months.

Questions Asked in the 1830 Census
Name of head of household; number of free white males and females in age categories 0 to 5, 5 to 10, 10 to 15, 15 to 20, 20 to 30, 30 to 40, 40 to 50, 50 to 60, 60 to 70, 70 to 80, 80 to 90, 90 to 100, over 100; number of slaves and free “colored” persons in age categories; categories for deaf, dumb, and blind persons and aliens; town or district; and county of residence.

Other Significant Facts about the 1830 Census
The 1830 census was the first for which the government provided uniform, printed forms to enumerators for the purpose of recording answers to census questions.

Research Tips For the 1830 Census
The 1830 census records are useful in identifying the locality to be searched for other types of records for a named individual. The 1830 census will, in most cases, help distinguish the target family from others of the same name; help to determine family size; locate possible relatives with the same name; identify immediate neighbors who may be related; identify slaveholders; and spot spelling variations of surnames. Free men “of color” are listed as heads of household by name. Slaves appear in age groupings by name of owner. By combining those age groupings with probate inventories and tax list data, it is sometimes possible to determine names of other family members and the birth order of those individuals.

The 1830 census went a step further in breaking down ages, thus allowing more precise knowledge of the household configuration. With the age categories expanded to include those one hundred years and older, it is possible to have a better idea of life spans during that time period. The addition of information regarding those who were deaf, dumb, and blind is an indication that there may be related guardianship or institutional records. The presence of aliens in a household suggests the possibility that those individuals may eventually have been naturalized in a nearby court.

1840 Census

The 1840 census was begun on 1 June 1840. The enumeration was to be completed within nine months but was extended to eighteen months.

Questions Asked in the 1840 Census
Name of head of household; number of free white males and females in age categories 0 to 5, 5 to 10, 10 to 15, 15 to 20, 20 to 30, 30 to 40, 40 to 50, 50 to 60, 60 to 70, 70 to 80, 80 to 90, 90 to 100, over 100; number of slaves and free “colored” persons in age categories; categories for deaf, dumb, and blind persons and aliens; town or district; and county of residence.

Additionally, the 1840 census, asked for the first time, the ages of revolutionary war pensioners and the number of individuals engaged in mining, agriculture, commerce, manufacturing and trade, navigation of the ocean, navigation of canals, lakes and rivers, learned professions and engineers; number in school, number in family over age twenty-one who could not read and write, and the number of insane.

Research Tips for the 1840 Census
The same research strategies used in the previous census apply to the 1840. A significant bonus comes from the question regarding revolutionary war pensioners. A search of revolutionary war sources (see chapter 9, Research in Military Records) may provide a wealth of genealogical information. A refinement of the occupation categories makes it possible to pursue other occupational sources and easier to distinguish individuals of the same name in the ever-growing population. Reading and writing skills and some indication of the educational level attained add an interesting and more personal dimension to a family history. An indication of the “insane” within a household might point to guardianship or institutional records.

1850 Census

The 1850 census was begun on 1 June 1850. The enumeration was to be completed within five months.

Questions Asked in the 1850 Census
Name; age; sex; color; territory or country of birth; whether the person attended school or was married within the year; whether the person could read or write if over age twenty; whether the person was deaf-mute, blind, insane, or “idiotic”; whether or not a fugitive from the state; and real estate value. The census also asked the occupation of males over age fifteen.

Separate slave schedules for 1850 asked the name of each slave owner, the number of slaves owned, and the number of slaves manumitted (released from slavery). While the schedules, unfortunately, do not name individual slaves, they asked the age, color, sex, and whether or not slaves were deaf-mute, blind, insane, or idiotic; and whether or not a fugitive from the state.

Other Significant Facts about the 1850 Census
The 1850 census is frequently referred to as the first modern census because of dramatically improved techniques employed for it and repeated in later years. Printed instructions to the enumerators account for a greater degree of accuracy compared with earlier censuses. The instructions explained the responsibilities of enumerators, census procedures, the manner of completing the schedules, and the intent behind census questions. “In the 1850 census and thereafter, enumerators were required by law to make their count by personal inquiry at every dwelling and with every family, and not otherwise.” As enumerations of districts were completed, the enumerator was instructed to make two additional copies: one to be filed with the clerk of the county court, one to be sent to the secretary of the state or territory, and one of the three to be sent to the Census Office for tabulation.

The census was to show the names of persons who died after 1 June of the census year and to omit children born after that date. It should be noted that many of the census takers did not get around to their assigned districts until late in 1850; some were as late as October and November.

The enumeration was to list every person in the United States except Indians living on government reservations or living on unsettled tracts of land. Indians not in tribal relations, whether of mixed blood or not, who were not living among the white population or on the outskirts of towns, were counted as part of the taxable population. The count was designed to determine the apportioning of representatives among the states.

Research Tips for the 1850 Census
The 1850 schedules included the free population and slave population and mortality, agriculture, and industry data. The inclusion of so much personal data for the first time in the 1850 census is an obvious boon to genealogists and social historians. For the first time it is possible to identify families and other groups by name. The inclusion of birthplaces for every individual allow for the plotting of migration routes.

Ages provided in the 1850 census allow researchers to establish dates for searching vital records. While few states officially recorded vital records that early, religious and other records may be pursued with estimated dates of birth gleaned from the census.

The identification of previous residences points to still other record sources to be searched in named localities. The indication of real estate ownership would suggest that land and tax records should be searched. The 1850 census may provide starting information for searching marriage records, probates, and a number of other genealogically important records. Probable family relationships may also be determined through 1850 census records, though it is easy to come to the wrong conclusions. The 1850 census provides valuable insights into occupations and property value. It may also make it possible to spot remarriages and step-relationships and to determine approximate life spans.

1860 Census

The 1860 census was begun on 1 June 1860. The enumeration was to be completed within five months.

Questions Asked in the 1860 Census
For all free persons, the census asked: name; age; sex; color; occupation of persons over age fifteen; value of real estate; value of personal estate; name of state, territory, or country of birth; whether the person was married during the year; and whether the person was deaf-mute, blind, insane, an “idiot,” a pauper, or a convict.

The information in the slave schedules is the same as those for 1850.

Other Significant Facts about the 1860 Census
The 1860 census was the first to ask those being queried to reveal the value of their personal estates. As enumerations of districts were completed, enumerators were instructed to make two copies: one to be filed with the clerk of the county court, one to be sent to the secretary of the state or territory, and the third to be sent to the Census Office for tabulation.

The birthplaces of individuals were to be specific as to the state or territory in the United States and the country of birth if foreign born. For example, designations of England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales and the German states of Prussia, Baden, Bavaria, Württemberg, and Hesse-Darmstadt were preferred to Great Britain and Germany.

Research Tips for the 1860 Census
Research strategies remain the same as those suggested for the 1850 census because information included in the 1850 and 1860 schedules is essentially the same, except for the addition of a question concerning personal estates. While the added column may be a general indicator of a person’s assets, it is doubtful that individuals were likely to disclose true figures for fear of being taxed accordingly.