Publisher of Quality Genealogy Materials
Volume 6, Number 8 Mountain Press, P.O. Box 400, Signal Mountain, Tennessee 37377, 1-423-886-6369 April 9, 2014
In this issue we discuss the limitations and values in the census. The census is a great place to start your research and may tell you about other families in the area. It is also good to read about the census information for the community you are researching.
If you have any comments or suggestions, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. As always, we enjoy hearing the comments after each newsletter.
James L. Douthat
GENEALOGIST’S BEST FRIEND
If any genealogist has a best friend, it is the Federal Census. The every ten year census of the United States started with the thirteen original colonies in 1790 and has been available for research all the way up unto 1940 so far. This makes one of the most useful tools with any family for a large number of years. Many families can trace their ancestry from 1790 up unto today by using these records.
Most of us that have used the census over the long haul know that no two census records are the same, even within some states. In some cases, the census taker worked outside the box in keeping the records. In the 1850 Marion County, Tennessee census, the census taker ask one additional question of each family, “What religious body do you belong to?” In the margin of that census is a brief note on the answer with some responding to “Baptist, Methodist, Catholic, Cumberland Presbyterian, etc.”. The notes were not this straight forward, however. He used abbreviations to indicate the answer. When I transcribed these records, I had access to some of the church minutes from the time period and found the people on the various church rolls, thus able to crack the code.
You will notice that for the majority of the census, they are taken geographically and not alphabetically by state, county, township, neighborhood and even street or road. Which means that when you locate your ancestor, you need to gather the information in both directions on the sheet for say ten to twelve families up and down. In many cases, this will give information on spouses and other relatives.
The early census up to 1850 are primarily very simple in information on the head of the house i.e. name, age, sex, etc. With the 1850 Census, you get the names of other living in the household. Not everyone in that household is related but that can be made clear with further research. From 1850, there are a number of variations within each of the census with some interesting questions like number of births for children and how many live births, or “What is your native tongue?”. Be sure and make note on every blank, even it is left blank. Up until the twentieth century census, the best information is found in the many questions. As we have progressed with the census, they have become less and less questioning.
One of the major problems with the census, it is not complete for any county. There are always people left out and wrong information given. The census takers were constantly asking a neighbor for the details of a family next door. In some cases, a child will be ask for details about the ages, where they were born or the value of the family farm. It may be all the information that you can get, but don’t always take this as the final and best statement. When you run the census on one family it is not surprising if wife is 31 in 1850, 38 in 1860 and 42 in 1870. Men also tend to overstate the value of their property, etc.
Remember that there are other census that will involve your ancestors besides the population census. There are State Census, Agricultural Census, Industrial/Manufacturing Census and Slave Census. Each of these contain different records, but they are needed to complete the story of your ancestors. Since the vast majority of families in the latter part of the nineteenth century were farmers, the Agricultural Census is one that will give a much broader picture of their life and times. Be sure and check all the different census out.
A whole different side to the census are the ones that are collected beyond the population and deals with the community at large. If you are active in a historical society or group, then you will want to be aware of the collection made by the Federal Government at the time of the census taking, but involving the community at large. These records will have very little concerning a single family or individual person, but they give a much broader picture of the community and the state. When working on a local history, these records are worth their weight in gold.
Take the 1890 Census for an example. We all know about the population schedule being destroyed by fire, but what most people do not know is that there is an eight foot shelf of materials that survived the fire and was published by the Federal Government. The information about each community is well worth reading to gain a clearer picture of the area at the time. Each of the decade census after about 1850 have similar sets of records. These records are much harder to gain access to, but well worth the search. There is supposed to be a set of these records in each congressional district as established by the government. Most of your larger libraries have access to these records, just ask around to find them.
Sometimes these community volumes come to light in flea markets and yard sales, so don’t pass them up. Spend a few dollars and make the members of your society extremely happy. Each volume contains materials about most communities as they explore various different records in each of them.
Use your “best friend” in your research, just be aware of the limitations and values.
1840 Virginia Census for The Mountain Empire:Virginians in Tennessee 1850
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