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Genealogy Gazette

Volume 2, Number 9
Mountain Press, P.O. Box 400, Signal Mountain, Tennessee 37377, 1-423-886-6369
September 2010


Ninth Edition of 2010 - Genealogy Gazette

In this issue we will be discussing how to analyze the 1850 Census. You need to look carefully at every column for any insight it can give you in your search.

If you have any comments or suggestions, please email me at jimd@mountainpress.com.

Thank you,
James L. Douthat
Mountain Press



Almost everyone at one time or another has to go to the 1850 Census. This can be a real step forward in your research or a step backwards. This is the first of the U. S. Census that gives the name of head of the household. Here you get the other persons living in the household at the time of the census and other information heretofore unknown. Let’s take a closer look at the columns in this census with their information as well as misinformation.

Now the first real column everyone is looking at is the “...name of every person whose usual place of abode on the first day of June, 1850 was in this family.” You find the head of the household’s name first followed by all of the others in that household. Normally, we would see a male’s name first and then a female’s name. The usual assumption is that she is his wife, but is she the mother of the children who are listed next? Probably, but not necessarily. We found an incident where the man and children are leaving the grave of his wife and on the way home selects another woman to be his wife. This rapid selection was necessary as he needed someone to care for the young children. In the instance we found, he selected the first wife’s sister to be the stepmother of all the children and later produced additional children by her. We can assume the man and wife are the parents of the children that follow, but keep in mind - maybe not.

The next few columns are fairly straight forward: Age, Sex, Race, Profession, Occupation or Trade, and Value of Real Estate owned. Now comes column number nine which asks for the “place of birth”. Normally, the census taker would just put down the State or Country where the individual was born, but that is a clue as to where to go back one generation. You will want to make note on each of these columns in your research. If there is something in the column on race that looks out of line, make special note here. The term “mulatto” can mean different things in different cultures. The term can mean mixed black and white or Indian or mixed Indian and black/white. You will need to look deeper into this term in the area you are researching. The usual note in this column is “W”, “B”, or “M”. There are times when the census taker uses some notations of his own as “Chinese” or “Indian”.

The last four columns in the census are frequently overlooked as many researchers do not think them important especially if you are reading a transcription. Column numbered 10 is “Married within the year”. In looking over the listing of the family and you see six children there and note that this column is checked, you can assume that the female is not the mother of these children. On the other hand, census takers did not always make a note of this. You have to remember that frequently the person giving the information is not a part of the family or maybe even one of the younger children - Papa was in the field working and did not have time for this kind of thing and Mama was washing clothes, canning foodstuffs and would not quit to talk to a stranger.

Column eleven is straightforward as children were either in school or not during the year. In the 1850s most of the schools were short term, 3-6 months at most and were subscription schools where the parents paid for the children to attend. Public school, as a general rule, did not come into play until after the Civil War. Now I am aware that in 1840 the county would sometimes pay for children to attend the private schools being taught in an area. This is listed on page 2 of that census.

Column twelve can be a real challenge as this is sometimes not marked as it should, but can give a real clue to other research. It states: “Persons over 20 years of age who cannot read and write”. Make a special note of this in your research as other problems can be solved with this tidbit. For example, you have a deed that is the person in question and you note that he “signed” it. This may or may not be the correct person for the deed. However, many times the only thing that a person may be able to write is their name. But you have a letter written by the person who cannot read or write, then you have a real challenge. Frequently during the Civil War one soldier will write letters back home for those that cannot read or write. Study it very carefully.

The final column states, “Whether deaf and dumb, blind, insane, idiotic, pauper, or convict”. You may have to take this information with a grain of salt. Being “blind or convict” can be obvious but “insane or idiotic” can be something questionable. It all depends on who is giving the information and how much they really knew and understood.

There are times when the Census Taker makes up their own notations. I found in transcribing the 1850 Marion County, Tennessee census that there were strange notes in the margin of each household. There were letters such as “B”, “M”, “CP” or “RC”. It was not until I reached the three quarters mark in the transcription that he wrote one out in full “Baptist”. Going back into the earlier pages, I interpreted these to be Baptist, Methodist, Cumberland Presbyterian and Roman Catholic. He was making notes of the families’ church affiliation. I have not found too many other Census Takers that did this, but be aware it can happen.

The 1850 Census can answer a lot of our questions for the first time in our research, but it can also create some real problems as well. Like with all census, if you read a transcription then make sure that you go to the original microfilm and study it also. Never read just the one name you want, but read and make note on the page before and the page with the name as well as the page after your person. In the future, you may find that you need this information as well. You might as well do it all at one time. Who did the head of the household marry? The answer might be on the page before or after your person. Remember that research is a matter of gathering as many of the bits and pieces as you can find and putting them all together to paint a fuller picture.

Happy Hunting! You never know what you will uncover next!

1850 Tazewell County, Virginia Census

Tazewell County Historical Society, Inc.
107 Pages, Soft Cover, Full Name Index, VA-0405, $20.00

Tazewell County in 1850 consisted in part with portions of Buchanan, Dickenson, and Bland Counties in Virginia and all of McDowell County, West Virginia. In this transcription, the vital information is given, i.e. Household number, names of those living in the household, ages, occupation and birth places. The relationship of individuals to the head of the household is not given, this remained for the 1880 Census only.

Click here for surnames.

1850 Marion County, Tennessee Census

70 Pages, Surname Index, Soft Cover, 1983, TN-0016, $12.50

Created in 1817, Marion County, was taken from the Cherokee lands ceded north of the Tennessee River. The portion of the county that was south of the river did not enter the picture until after the Ocoee Land District was established in 1838. Besides giving the house number, the household number, name of the occupants, their age, sex, place of birth and occupation, there is another type of entry in this census that is unique. It gives in many cases their church association.

Click here for surnames.



Mercer County, WV 1850 Census

Transcribed by Netti Schreiner-Yantis
51 Pages, Maps, Full Name Index, Soft Cover, WV-0022, $9.00

Complimented by a Mercer County ancestry chart and a map of Mercer's progeny, this publication contains an exceptional transcription of the 1850 Census of Mercer County. Each entry includes the family number, name of household member, age, sex, occupation [when applicable], value of real estate, and place of birth. Compiled from original manuscripts found at the National Archives in Washington D.C., slave schedules were originally separated from the regular census. The transcriber copied the material from the slave schedules and inserted it into the proper family. So, if the Head of Household was also a slave owner, you will find the number of slaves owned by the family. The transcriber also indicates other spellings of surnames [for instance: Crofford became Crawford.].

Click here for surnames.

If you have any questions or suggestions for future editions, please email us at jimd@mountainpress.com.