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Researching USA Census Records 1790-1930
Column published: 12 Jun 2007
By: Shirley Gage Hodges   Biography & Archived Articles

Census records are among the most common and important records used by the genealogical researcher. Learning to use them to full advantage is the key to being a successful researcher. The census record may contain valuable information about a family's history, however it must be carefully reviewed and analyzed. We need to research the instructions that were given to the census takers and understand why they asked the questions that they did. Each federal census is different from the one before it. It is important that we learn about the differences and take them into account.

It is important that we pay careful attention to the date the information was taken. Each census had an official date that the information was to be taken. We need to always check and see if the enumerator included this on the record. Sometimes a person might have died after the official date but have been included in the record. The same holds true for births.

The official dates that the U.S. Federal Census was taken "as of" a certain date are as follows: Census year Date of Census
    1790 - First Monday in August (2nd)
    1800 - First Monday in August (4th)
    1810 - First Monday in August (6th)
    1820 - First Monday in August (7th)
    1830 - 1900 June 1
    1910 - April 15
    1920 - January 1
    1930 - April 2 (in Alaska began on 1 October 1929.)

Census-taker at work - early 20th century

Special Census Schedules

  • Agriculture Schedules. These give detailed information on farms: acreage, types and amounts of crops; types and number of livestock; and whether the farm is owned or managed.

  • Dependent, Defective and Delinquent Schedules. These were taken in 1880. They are also referred to as Supplemental Schedules. They list Homeless Children, Deaf Mutes; Blind; Insane inhabitants; Idiots; Pauper and Indigent inhabitants and Prisoners.

  • Manufacturing Schedules. They give the location and owner of business, number of employees, and annual production. They list small businesses and merchants. They were taken 1810-1820; 1850-1880. 1810 is largely lost.

  • Mortality Schedules. These schedules enumerated persons who died during the 12 months prior to the Census Day. For most states they are available for 1850-1880.

  • Slave Schedules. These schedules show the owner's name, and number of male and female slaves. They rarely give the slave's name. They were taken in 1850 and 1860.

  • Social Statistics Schedules. These schedules contain trade societies, lodges, clubs, newspapers, list of churches, and cemeteries with cities.

  • Information that may be determined from facts found in a census record:
    • When and where your ancestor lived.
    • How your ancestor lived.
    EDITOR's NOTE: Shirley Hodges published a new Global Guide earlier this month: A Guide to United States Census 1790-1930. More information...

    Bibliography of Census Resources:

    A Guide to United States Census 1790-1930, Shirley Gage Hodges, Global Heritage Press Inc., Campbellville, ON, 2007

    National Archives; "Chapter 1: Census Records;" Guide to Genealogical Research in the National Archives; Washington, DC, revised 1983.

    National Archives; Federal Population Censuses, 1790-1890: A Catalog of Microfilm Copies of the Schedules; 1977

    Greenwood, Val D.; Census Returns;" Researcher's Guide to American Genealogy; Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc.; 1990.

    Thorndale, William and William Dollarhide. Map Guide to the U. S. Federal Censuses, 1790-1920; Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1987.

    "In Praise of Errors Made by Census Enumerators" by Alycon Trubey Pierce, C.G., National Genealogical Society Quarterly, Vol. 81, No. 1, March 1993, pgs. 51-55.

    "Finding Missing Men on Early Census Records: The Example of Thomas Russell" by Ruth Land Hatten, C.G.R.S., National Genealogical Society Quarterly, Vol. 81, No. 1, March 1993, pgs. 47-50.

    May you find every ancestor
    on every census schedule
    that has survived for his or her
    place and time.

    Until next time :)

    Shirley Hodges, biography & genealogy lectures; email:

    Editor's Note: Shirley Hodges is the author of the popular Guide to United States Census, 1790-1930

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