US Census and How to Use It


The United States Census is one of the best sources that we, as genealogists have at our disposal. However, the United States Census is not perfect. The Census was begun in 1790. From 1790 to 1840, the Census included, the name of the head of household, the state and county where they lived. In additional, a slash for every other person, who lives within the household. The slash would represent only one person. The slash is specifically, a wife, a son, a daughter, a brother, a sister, an aunt, an uncle, a mother, a father, a cousin, a grandmother, a grandfather, a great grandmother, a great grandfather a grandson or a granddaughter. Other people, who might be on the United States Census are a hired hand, a laborer, a gardener, a carpenter, a slave, a servant, a maid, a butler, an apprentice, a boarder, a friend or anyone else, who lived on the property, on the particular day.

A person was never supposed to be counted twice or more times. But that did happen. Also, some people would not be counted at all. Because the United States Census lasted more than one day, there were times when someone might be with one family, on one day (mother and father) and another family (grandmother and grandfather) on another day.

People, who travel may be at different placed at different times and never be counted. The Melungeons, or people, who live on boats or houseboats, might not be counted. These people lived mainly on the Mississippi River and along the Gulf Coast. Any people or groups of people, who traveled had the chance of being overlooked by the United States Census.

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Starting with the 1850 United States Census, the government listed the entire family by name. This means, that everyone in the family would be listed by name on the United States Census. Every child, no matter how old, would be counted. Each person, would be listed according to their relationship to the head of household. The relationship might be, a son, a daughter, a wife, a brother, a sister, an aunt, an uncle, a mother, a father, a cousin, a grandmother, a grandfather, a great grandmother, a great grandfather, a grandson or a granddaughter. By having the relationship to the head of household on the United States Census, we as genealogists can fine out about additional ancestors. A genealogist can look up a grandfather, as a child. The genealogist would then, be able to fine the father and mother, possibly, of the grandfather, as a child. If one is really lucky, it is possible to fine a parent or grandparent of the head of household. This would take one back another generation.

The heading of the 1850 United States Census starts with the 1850 United States Census. The next item is a line for Free inhabitants in _____________, in the County of ____________, State of_____________, enumerated by me on the ____________day of _____________, 1850. _____________________ Ass’t Marshal.

Free inhabitants are the people, who are not slaves. The County, in which these people listed on this page of the United States Census live. Next is the State in which the people on this page of the United States Census live. The next line lists the day of the month in which the United States Census is taken. The following line lists the month of the 1850 United States Census. The Ass’t Marshal or Assistant Marshal is the name, of the enumerator or census taker, taking the United States Census that day, at that time.

The next part of the 1850 United States Census is a list of the columns:

The first column is for the line number on the page. The enumerator would list each head of household with a number.

The second column is for the Dwelling house number. The number of the dwelling or house in the order of the enumerators visit.

The third column is for the family number. The number of the family in the order of the enumerators visit.

The fourth column is for the name of the person in the family on that specific line. Sometimes, the first name is listed first. Sometimes, the last name or the surname is listed first. At times, the surname is only listed once. Then all the family members are listed under the head of household’s name. There have been times, when the step children are not listed under their surname. They are mistakenly listed under the step father’s name.

The fifth column is for the age of the person. It is important to note that the person may not have had their birthday, for that year at the time, of the United States Census. They will, in that case appear a year younger than their birthday date may indicate.

The sixth column is for the sex of the person. When a person is speaking to an census taker, the person may be saying one thing. But the census taker is hearing something different. Here are some examples:

The person on the census or the mother said a child’s name was Joy, a girl’s name; but the census taker heard Joey, a boy’s name. The person transcribing the name may change or assume the child was a boy and change the sex designation to male.

On one census, the name was of a boy. His name was Orville. Somehow, the name was transcribed as Arvilla, and listed as a girl. Mistakes or misunderstandings can make a big difference in knowing who is who.

In looking at one census, we found the name of Cyrus, which is traditionally a boy’s name. But in this case, a girl was named for her father, after his death. Then, she is listed as a male or a boy. Naming a child for a parent, grandparent, or other relative who has died, is very common.

The seventh column is about color. The color designations were W for White, B for Black and M for Mulatto. If someone was white, often the space in the column would be left blank, with the assumption that the person was white.

The eighth column would be for profession, occupation or trade of each male person over fifteen or 15, years of age. The most widely held occupation was that of farmer. The column says male person; but many women held some kind of job or occupation in 1850. Women could be innkeepers, nurses, seamstresses, ladies maids, cooks or servants of some kind. Some women worked in factories. It was about 1850, when women began teaching school. A few women even owned their own businesses.

The ninth column was for the value of the real estate owned by a person. As many men were farmers in 1850; they owned, rented or least the land they lived and worked on. Some were tenant farmers.

The tenth column was for the place of birth for each person. When a person was born in the United States; the enumerator listed the state of birth. When the person was born outside the United States or in another county; the enumerator would list the country of origin or birth. Because borders changed so much in Europe during the 1800’s; it is sometimes difficult to tell, exactly where a particular person was born.

The eleventh column was about marriage. The question was: Was the person married within the last year? This can tell a genealogist, quit a bit. If the couple was married that year; and there are one or more children listed in the family, then probably there was a former wife or husband. There would also, have been a death or a divorce. Divorce was extremely uncommon in the 1800’s. The main reason women died, before 1900 was child birth.

The Twelfth column was for the question: Did the person attend school within the last year. This question can tell a genealogist, if the person is in school, or the degree of education, that specific person held.

The thirteenth column asked if the particular person was over 20, twenty years old and cannot read and write. Sometimes, when asking this question, the census taker would ignore the part of the question that says over 20. The census taker might ask, if each of the people in the family can read and write. What a genealogist may find is that a number of of older people can’t read and write. In the 1800’s, many people could not read or write.

The fourteenth question was about people who, at the time were considered on the fringes of society by some people, of that time. The people, who wrote the United States Census questions, were using words that were common at the time. The question was: Is the person “deaf, dumb, blind, insane, idiotic, pauper, or convict?” Some of the terms that were used in the eighteen hundreds are not the terms that may be used today. Below we wanted to list a definition of each of the terms in the fourteenth question of the United States Census for 1850.

The word deaf is defined as partially, or completely incapable of hearing. The degree of hearing ability is dependent on the person, or people being interviewed by the census taker. This degree ranges from completely deaf to slightly deaf. Some people can hear well. Their hearing is impaired, only when there is too much noise, in the area.

The word dumb is not used much today. Dumb meant, lacking the power or the faculty of speech or in other words, mute. There is a degree of speech involved with this term. A person might be able to speak, but not well. Also, a person has such a bad speech impediment, that he or she does not want to speak at all.

The word blind is also a word of different degrees. A person can be partially blind and still be considered blind or legally blind, today. In the eighteen hundreds, a person could tell a census taker, if they could see or not. At that time, people were considered blind, if they couldn’t see well.

The term insane meant of or exhibiting a very foolish, rash or wild behavior. Also, the persistent mental disorder or derangement of a person. Other definitions include: lunacy, madness, mania or dementia, which denotes the conditions of mental disability or instability. In the eighteen hundreds, a person could say, that a crazy Aunt is in the attic. It was only later, that her living conditions would be considered.

The word idiotic refers to a person who is mentally deficient, or having intelligence in the lowest measurable range, being unable to guard against common dangers, or incapable of learning connected speech. Other words would be imbecile, ignorant, or exhibiting lack of education or knowledge. Still other definitions that could relate are uneducated, untaught, unlearned, unlettered, illiterate, uninformed, untutored or unaware.

The term pauper has a definition, of one who is extremely poor. Other meanings might be one living on public charity, impoverished, indigent, destitute, lacking money, no means for adequate existence, poverty due to misfortune or having urgent need.

The word convict is used for one, who is guilty of a crime, or an offense. One who is imprisoned by a local, county, state, or federal authority. One who is convicted, of wrongdoing or sinfulness. A person who is declared or found guilty by, proof. A person who is put in jail, confined or incarcerated. One who, is put in an enclosed space.

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The heading for the 1860 United States Census starts with the 1860 United States Census. The next item is the Page: _____________, State:_____________, City:_____________, Call Number/URL:___________________________________, Enumeration Date:___________________________________

This first title is for the Page number of that enumerator, or census takers page that day. The next is the line for the name of the state, in which the person or people, who are being counted, in a particular state live. The following line is for the name of the County in which the person or people in that particular county live. Listed next, is the name of the City, in which the person or people who are being counted, live. Call Number/URL is the number of the location of the neighborhood, which the 1860 United States Census has given the neighborhood. The next and last category of the title is Enumeration Date. This is the date on, which the enumerator, or United States Census taker lists the persons, or people in that particular area.

Looking down the page you can find all the headings for the 1860 United States Census. The first column of these on the right side, of the page is Dwelling-houses numbered in the order of visitation. This means that the homes of the persons counted would be in the order, of the house numbers on that specific street.

The next or second column listed, is for the Families numbered in the order of visitation. This is the number of the family or household on that street, in that neighborhood. Often you may find a related family next door or in the same neighborhood. Families tend to live near each other. This can be very helpful. If the family down the road has the same name, and is older by a generation, they may be the parents of your family on that page of the 1860 United States Census. It can, also be a mistake to assume, that these people are related. This development does, however, deserve further investigation.

The third column is written as such, The Name of every Person whose usual place of abode on the first day of June, 1860, was in this family. In the United States Census of 1860, everyone on the property was to be on the the census. That means everyone from the head of the household to the servants and the slaves. The count was to include friend and visitors of all kinds. Because the census was taken at different times in different places; sometimes a person would be counted twice, or not at all. We know some people were missed.

The next three columns are the Description, which includes the age, sex and color. The fourth column is for the Sex of each person. Beware, because on occasion a person, especially a child would be marked with the wrong sex. This could happen, when a girl’s name sounds like a boy’s name. Or when a boy’s name sounds like a girls name. Some names could be both male and female. Names like Jean or Gene are easy to misunderstand. There are girls that have boy’s names. There are fewer boys that have girl’s names. Carroll with two L’s can be a boy’s name. Carol or Carrol as a girl’s name usually has just one L.

The fourth column is specifically for age. Please beware, there are usually no months or days of birth on the 1860 United States Census. Because the census can last most of the year; the year of birth on the census can span two years. If the census is taken in Kansas in the month of April, and you grandmother’s birthday is in July, then she might appear a year younger. If that same census is taken in August, then her age should appear as the right age for that year.

The fifth column in the 1860 United States Census, is about the Sex of the individual. As other columns names have a good deal of influence over the way people view the sex, of this person. It is important to notice names and nicknames to determine the sex of a particular person. One example would be, the name of Bobby. This name is usually a nickname for Robert, a man’s name. Bobby is at times, a nickname for Roberta or Barbara. These are women’s names. Another nickname is Viny, Viney or Vinie. Usually Viny is a nickname for Vincent. But Viny is also, a standard nickname for Winifred. This name can also be spelled Wynifred or Winefred. Sometimes, a parent, a grandparent, an Enumerator, a census taker or a transcriber just makes a mistake. Then, a boy is listed as a girl, or girl is listed as a boy.

The sixth column in the 1860 United States Census, is specifically about color. This column is listed as Color (White, Black or Mulatto). In 1860 the White designation is normally used for people of European decent. In 1860 the Black designation is normally used for people of African decent. The Mulatto Designation in 1860 was used to identify people of mixed race, or both Black and White. Today, we seldom hear the term Mulatto.

The seventh column in the 1860 United States Census is listed as Profession, Occupation or Trade of each Male Person over 15 years of age. This column would include any man, who is over the age of fifteen and is employed either by an outside party or by himself. Sometimes, women of this period, also have an occupation or a profession. At times, working women can be found in the 1860 United States Census. And at times, working women may be over looked, because of the wording of the seventh column. Some of the occupations women were employed in were: innkeeper, nurse, seamstress ladies maid, housekeeper, cook and servant of some kind. Women worked in factories. Women began teaching school, about a decade before the 1860 United States Census. Women were farmers. Some women owned their own businesses. At the time of this census, most women would not have held any kind of profession. At this time, many men were farmers. Often, men would hold more than one job. In Missouri, one man was a farmer, had a liquor licence, and always held a position, on the town council or on the county level. Another man was a farmer and a carpenter. Many men in that day as now, were farmers and also, held another position, of some kind. On the Census, only one occupation, may be listed. This may be the idea of the person being counted or an enumerator who is in a hurry, because of his quota.

The eighth column is about the Value of Real Estate. This column would indicate the amount of money, that this person’s business or property is worth at the time of the 1860 United States Census. This amount, what ever it is, does not take into account, the amount of money that is owed on this property. This does not take into account, any court decisions or leans there are, on or against the property. This Real Estate might be: farm land, a business of some kind, a house, any farm buildings, bridges, structures of any kind.

The ninth column is about the Value of Personal Estate. This column can tell a genealogist what the person in question is worth. This column can tell a genealogist what his, or her personal property is worth. Personal property by legal definition is temporary or movable as distinguished from real property. This would be property that people can take with them, if they were to move, to another place or residence. Personal property might be: tools, farm equipment, wagons or carts, saddles, bridles and tack, furniture, kitchen supplies, pots and pans, jewelry, clothing, fishing supplies and books.

The tenth column is for the Place of Birth Naming the State, Territory or County. This column can be very helpful, in finding additional generations. As the United States of America was being formed, the founding fathers figured out a system of creating new states. This system consisted of new land being designated as territories. These territories were divided into large counties. When a territory became a state; the large counties would be divided into smaller counties. These smaller counties might have some of the same names, or the new names might be totally different. The communities would start out as townships. Then, later, the townships would be given names. Sometimes the new names were the same, as the old. Sometimes the new names would be brand new, to the area. The point is, the names may not be the same. This column can, also tell a genealogist were each person was born. Then, a genealogist will know where to look next, for this particular family. If one is really lucky, a genealogist might find a grandparent living, with the family. This find, can give a genealogist, another generation back.

The eleventh column is specifically for, those who were Married within the year. This column can help, because a genealogist can, then be able to figure out, if the couple in question, were married within that year. This will possibly, tell a genealogist, if the current wife of the head of household is, also the mother of some of the children. It could be, of course, that the mother of the children died, and then, the head of household or father remarried. At that point, a genealogist knows to look else where for the mother, or mothers of the children, on this particular census.

The twelfth column, asked who Attended School within the year. It is easy to forget, that the United States Census was and is taken for the government to be able to determine, how many people are in each state. This will tell the government how much money is to be given for roads, bridges, schools and other needs of the states. It is good that we, as genealogists have access to the United States Census; but the census was not established for that reason. This column does not specify what kind of school a student may have attended. The school will usually be a public school. The school, could also have been: a private school, a religious school, a trade school, a college, a university or another kind of school. The person, who is in school may also be working. This is also, a reason why this person is not working. A genealogist, needs to examine each census very carefully to make sure, to get every detail of each person.

The thirteenth column, is a listing of those Persons over 20 years of age who cannot read & write. In the past, many people in the United States could not read and write. As the United States has progressed, the number of people, who could read and write has increased. Some people learned early, how to read and write. Some very intelligent people, were not literate. There were a number of people, who carried a piece of paper, or something else to write on, around with them, until they found a person who could read and write. This person, would ask the second person to write their name on the paper. The first person would, then practice writing their name. It was important, to be able to sign your own name. It has always been important for the government to know, where more education or schooling is needed.

The fourteenth column lists a number of difficulties that people faced, in 1860. The question on the United States Census of 1860 was “Whether deaf and dumb, blind, insane, idiotic, pauper or convict.” Some of these terms are not the terms, that we would use today. We will try to give a definition of each of these words. Please remember, that the 1860 United States Census, as well as the other Censuses taken in the United States every ten years, was to keep the United States Government informed, as to where people lived and their needs. No matter, where people live; they have needs. The people with these specific difficulties may have specific needs.

The word deaf is defined as partially or completely incapable of hearing. The degree of hearing is dependent on that particular person, or people being interviewed by a census taker. This degree depends on the range from completely deaf to slightly deaf. Some people can hear very well. Other people find their hearing is impaired. There are many different kinds of hearing loss. In 1860, there were not as many ways, to measure deafness.

The term dumb is not used much, today. This word meant, lacking the power or the faculty of speech or another word would be mute. There is a degree of speech or lack of speech, involved with this term. The person being interviewed, in this 1860 United States Census might be able to speak, but not well. Also, the person in question might have some kind of speech impediment; or he or she may not want to speak at all.

The word blind is also one of different degrees. A person may be partially blind and still be considered blind or legally blind, today. In 1860, a person may have been able to see very poorly. this person might be said to have some sight, so that the census taker would be told, that the person in question can see. Much of the interview, depends on the interviewer, and the person or people being interviewed.

The term insane, in the 1860, meant of or exhibiting a very foolish, rash or wild behavior. Also, the persistent mental disorder or derangement of the mind of a person. Other definitions include: lunacy, madness, mania or dementia, which denotes the conditions of mental disability or instability. In the 1800’s, there were many different conditions that could be, thought to be insanity. Now, mankind knows more about, these conditions.

The word idiotic refers to a person, who is mentally deficient, or having intelligence in the lowest measurable range. Also, being unable to guard against common dangers, or incapable of learning connected speech. Other words, would be: imbecile, ignorant, or exhibiting the lack of education or knowledge. Still, other definitions, that could relate, are uneducated, untaught, unlearned, unlettered, illiterate, uninformed, untutored or unaware.

The term pauper has a definition, of one who is extremely poor. Other meanings, might be, when one is living on public charity, impoverished, indigent, destitute, lacking money, no means for adequate existence, poverty due to misfortune or having urgent need.

The word convict is used for one, who is guilty of a crime, or an offense. One, who is imprisoned by a local, county, state, or federal authority. One, who is convicted, of wrongdoing, or sinfulness. A person who is declared or found guilty by, proof. A person, who is put in jail, confined or incarcerated. One, who is put in an enclosed space.

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The title of the United States Census, in the case of the 1870 Census is preceded by the Page Number, or Page No. Next this census states, Inhabitants in _______________________, in the County of _____________________________, State of __________________________,enumerated by me on the ____________________________ day of________________ ________________, 1870. _________________________________________________ Ass’t Marshall
Post Office______________________________

The heading of the 1870 United States Census begins with the Inhabitants in a town, township, city or principality. The next area is that of the county. The following line lists the state. Next on the census is the date, including the day and the month. The year of 1870 is printed on each page. This is followed by the names of the enumerator or the census taker. The Post Office is the last line on the page. Please beware that, a townships may change the name as it becomes town or city. Generally the name change comes when the territory becomes a state. When there are two towns with the same name, then one will need to change as the territory achieved statehood.

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