Census Reports – The First Fifty Years

Taking a Closer Look at the Early Census Reports

Manually adding Census info to the genealogy database has proven to be an interesting project. While I love researching genealogy, I have to admit reading a Government website about Government documents holds very little appeal. Eventually I gave in, started reading and learned a few things. What surprised me most was that there is a second screen of information in the 1840 Census. It’s there that you’ll find the names and ages of Revolutionary Pensioners. You’ll also find information about how the family earned a living. Were they involved in manufacturing, commerce, farming or some kind of navigation on the rivers or oceans? I didn’t realize the questions asked by the enumerators referred to the date of the Census, not the when the questions were asked. For example, the official date of the 1830 Census was June 1st and it took an entire year to complete. This meant if the enumerator was at your house in May of 1831 you were expected to give an accounting of the previous year.

The first 20 years of Census data only provides us with a tally of family members and the name of the head of household.

In 1810 economic data was added and enumerators could no longer rely on hearsay to complete the forms. Economic data in 1820 was better defined, age groups were expanded and households reported the number of foreigners living at the residence. The 1830 Census provided uniformity when preprinted forms were provided and locations were recorded. Discovering the 1840 Census holds the names of Revolutionary Pensioners and includes the industry family members were engaged in made this a worthwhile project. Following is a brief description of changes and additions to the 1790 through 1840 Census reports, along with the official date of each Census.

1790 Census – included the 13 original States, along with the districts of “Kentucky, Maine and Vermont and the Southwest Territory (Tennessee)”. Free white males were grouped into two categories (under 16 years and upward of 16 years). This allowed an assessment of the Country’s industrial and military potential. All other persons were listed in single categories undivided by age. The official date was 2 August 1790.

1800 Census – included territories northwest of the Ohio river and the Mississippi Territory. Males and females were recorded according to 5 age categories. Indians, slaves and free blacks were listed in single categories undivided by age. The official date was 4 August 1800.

1810 Census – the state of Ohio was added and age categories were defined into 5 groups for males and females. Economic data recorded “manufacturing establishments” and manufacturers. (No predetermined set of questions for manufacturing data was provided, making analysis difficult.) Legislation required enumerators to visit each “household or the head of the household”. All or part of the returns for DC, Georgia, New Jersey, Tennessee and the Territories of Indiana, Mississippi and Louisiana were lost or destroyed. The official date was 6 August 1810.

1820 Census – defined economic factors by dividing the category into three sections: agriculture, commerce and manufacturing. (Columns 13, 14 & 15) Manufacturing included any employees of “manufacturing establishments” and “artificers, handicrafts men, and mechanics whose labor is preeminently of the hand, and not upon the field”. Also identified were the number of “Foreigners not naturalized” in each household. (Column 12) The information doesn’t identify the individuals, but it can provide clues about family employment and origin. Slaves and “Freed Colored Persons” were account for by age with 4 categories. The official date was 7 August 1820.

1830 Census – age categories were further defined for males and females. The ages of slaves and “Freed Colored Persons”, both male and female, now included 6 categories. Also added was the “Name of the county, city, ward, town, township, parish, precinct, hundred or district” of the head of household. The listing of foreigners was relabeled “ALIENS-Foreigners not naturalized” and an accounting of those who were deaf, dumb or blind was added. The official date was 1 June 1830.

1840 Census – listed the name and age of “Pensioners for Revolutionary or military services” along with the “Head of Household” where they were living. The economic question included seven categories (Mining; Agriculture; Commerce; Manufacture and trade; Navigation of the ocean; Navigation of canals, lakes and rivers; and, Learned professional engineers) for the “Number of persons in each family employed”. Also collected was data relating to education in the communities. If you are viewing your Census Docs online be sure to look at the next image. The official date was 1 June 1840.

Blank Census forms can be downloaded from the National Archives website. Additional information can be found on the US Census Bureau webpages, including the 1790 Census.

Taking a closer look at the 1820, 1830 and 1840 Census records may be worth the effort.

You can find additional information at the National Archives website, the the US Census Bureau webpages, or on Wikipedia.

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