Un­der­stand­ing the United States Cen­suses

Serve Daily - - BUILDING COMMUNITY - By Ginny Ack­er­son

The United States has taken cen­suses ev­ery 10 years since 1790. Th­ese records pro­vide a cul­tural snap­shot of the lo­cal so­ci­ety and cul­ture at those times. To get the most in­for­ma­tion from the cen­suses to help you trace your roots, you need to understand what in­for­ma­tion each enu­mer­a­tion pro­vides.

In the 1790 cen­sus, mar­shals enu­mer­ated the orig­i­nal 13 states plus the dis­tricts of Ken­tucky, Maine and Ver­mont and the South­west Ter­ri­tory (Ten­nessee). Each house­hold pro­vided the name of the head of the fam­ily and the num­ber of per­sons in each house­hold who were free white males of 16 years and up­ward (to as­sess the coun­try’s in­dus­trial and mil­i­tary po­ten­tial), free white males un­der 16 years, free white fe­males, all other free per­sons (by sex and color) and slaves. The U.S. gov­ern­ment did not fur­nish uni­form printed sched­ules un­til 1830, so in 1790, the mar­shals sub­mit­ted their re­turns in what­ever form they found con­ve­nient (and some­times with added in­for­ma­tion). Col­umn ti­tles are hand-writ­ten and some­times only on the first page.

From 1800 to 1820, the states pro­vided sched­ules of vary­ing size and type­face. The 1800 sched­ule of in­quiries called for the name of the county, parish, town­ship, town or city where the fam­ily resided; the name of the head of the fam­ily; the num­ber of free white males and fe­males un­der 10 years of age, of 10 and un­der 16, of 16 and un­der 26, of 26 and un­der 45, and 45 years and up­ward; the num­ber of all other free per­sons (ex­cept In­di­ans not taxed); and the num­ber of slaves. With the age and gen­der guide­lines, ge­neal­o­gists are able to nar­row birth years down to within 5 or 10 years of the ac­tual date of birth.

The 1810 cen­sus in­quiries are iden­ti­cal to the 1800 cen­sus.

In­quiries for 1820 called for the same age dis­tri­bu­tion of the free white pop­u­la­tion as in 1800 and 1810. Ad­di­tional in­quiries in­clude the num­ber of free white males be­tween 16 and 18 years, free col­ored per­sons and slaves, re­spec­tively, by sex, ac­cord­ing to the num­ber un­der 14 years of age, of 14 and un­der 26, of 26 and un­der 45, and of 45 years and up­ward, with a state­ment of the num­ber of “all other per­sons, ex­cept In­di­ans not taxed,” the num­ber of for­eign­ers not nat­u­ral­ized, and the num­ber of per­sons (in­clud­ing slaves) en­gaged in agri­cul­ture, commerce and man­u­fac­tur­ing.

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