Shirley Hornbeck's This and That Genealogy Tips on Census #2

is that day set aside by law for each census enumeration to begin (i.e. who lived in the household of the said date). Although the Assistant Census Marshall may have quizzed the head of the family in September on the make-up of his family, the return was to show " all persons in the family June 1st." No baby born between June 1st and the enumerator's visit was to be included. But anyone who died between June 1st and the enumerator's visit was to be included as well as anyone who was a member of the family June 1st but was absent from the home when the enumerator came by. All forts, Navy yards, prisons, asylums, colleges schools, etc., the superintendent, commanding officer, keeper or headmaster was considered to be the "Head of Household" and was instructed to furnish information of the number of people in his charge.

Enumerators of the census were instructed to take the census as of a certain date regardless of when they visited. If the visit was made after that date, babies born after that date were not included, but deaths were. Census dates were:
1790-1820---1st Monday in August
1830-1900---June 1
1910---April 15
1920---January 1
1930-1980---April 1

The Constitution called for a census of all "Persons . . . excluding Indians not taxed" for the purpose of apportioning seats in the House of Representatives and assessing direct federal taxes. The "Indians not taxed" were those not living in the settled areas. In later years, Native Americans everywhere were considered part of the total population, but not all were included in the apportionment figures until 1940.

Before we can really do justice to documented ancestors in the area west of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, we need to sort through the older states and counties, so that we don't keep repeating the same mistakes that were published by others. At one time (as early as 1728 or as late as 1863) a person shown as being born in VA might have actually been born in IL (1781-1818); IN (1787-1819); KY (1775-1792); MO (1755-1792); NC (1728-1803); OH (1728-1803); PA (1752-1786); TN (1760-1803); WV (1769-1863).

The government did not provide printed forms or even paper until 1830. If was up to each assistant to copy his census return on whatever paper he could find and post it in two public places in his assigned area. Those who saw and could read them were supposed to check for discrepancies or omissions. The highest pay rate, two cents per person, barely covered expenses, especially where settlers were scattered and living in places that were difficult to find or access.

A branch of the Census Bureau will assist you in obtaining census information from the 1930-1990 Federal returns. If you provide proof of death, Age Search will, for $25.00, search any two census records. The search is limited to the person for whom you are requesting information, but you may ask for other family members to be included for a $2.00 per person fee. The full line of information from the census return will be provided with payment of a $6.00 fee. The basic fee includes an official document stating the person's name, age, place of birth, citizenship and relationship to the head of the household. Form BC-600 which is required may be obtained by writing: Bureau of The Census, "Age Search", P.O. Box 1545, Jeffersonville, IN 47131.

African-Americans, regardless of whether their ancestors were free or slave, are usually able to trace their ancestry back to the end of the Civil War without too much difficulty using the same sources white Americans use. Pre-Emancipation slaves were considered the personal property of their owners and are identified by the plantation records. Research then focuses upon the owner's family and the records it produced as slave owners, as well as on the slave family itself. Searching for slave ancestors always requires a thorough investigation of the white slave-owning family in all public and historical records. The census records of 1870 are the first to list blacks by name. In 1850 & 1860 slave statistics were gathered, but did not list slaves by name, just tallied, and are useful as circumstantial evidence that a slave of a certain age and sex was the property of a particular owner. Free blacks and their families names were included in 1850 & 1860. Military records from Revolutionary War are available. Birth records are available as the slave owners need to protect his personal property by officially recording it. If you know the birth date, you can search the birth records for a male or female slave born on that date and an owner/plantation name will be given. Bills of sale will be found among land records, estate records or miscellaneous county records. Slave trade manifests are available at the National Archives, Washington, DC. Also write to the Registry of American Black Ancestry, Box 417, Salt Lake City, UT 84110.

Did you know that the National Archives allows you to read the original census records when it is impossible to read the microfilm? They also have a list of professional researchers who, for a fee, will read the original census lists for you. This is permitted under rigidly controlled conditions and you can carry into the room only a pencil and pad of paper. You must deposit all other items in lockers outside the room. Some of the original census sheets did not microfilm well because a very pale blue ink was used, which is perfectly legible on the original document but almost impossible to read on the microfilm.

To contact a living person whom you have lost, write a letter to the person, be sure to include your address and telephone number in the letter. Send the letter in an unsealed stamped envelope, along with a cover letter to the Social Security Administration, Letter Forwarding Unit, 6401 Security Blvd., Baltimore, MD 21235. Include in your cover letter as much as you know about the person: Name, Social Security number, birthplace, birth date, name of the person's parents. You do not have to know all of the information, but the process will be quicker if you give more identifying information. If the person you are seeking is listed in the SSA files, the letter will be forwarded to them and it's up to that person to contact you.


1880+ and 1840 back=1 original

1850-1870=1 original and 2 copies, 1 to the National Archives, 1 to the State Archives, 1 to the County (most of the State and County have been destroyed)

1900-1920=no original available

When you canít read the film, and there is an original available, write to the National Archives for a better copy. On the census years where there is more than one, write to other places for a copy. Also, there is no telling who got the actual original. There are probably many differences from each of the copies, since it was common knowledge for everyone to sit at the table and make the extra copies.

The marshals were given the task of executing the orders of the federal courts. Congress gave the marshals other duties that were outside their normal duties and one of these was the enumeration for the first census of 1790. They were chosen because of their positions in the country.

Each Marshall received a fee at the rate of one dollar for every 150 persons in the country, and one dollar for every 300 persons in cities or towns with a population of 5000 or more. If the population was sparse, as in Maine, the fee was one dollar for every 50 people.

President Washington gave the responsibility of coordination to Secretary of State Jefferson. But since Jefferson was still in France, his secretary Tobias Lear, issued the instructions by letter to the marshals on 5 March 1790. They were given nine months to make the count. Because of difficulties, the completed census was not sent to Congress until 27 Oct. 1791. The total was 3,929,214 free people in the U. S.

One man noted that the census was supposed by many to be inaccurate and "the assumed error was imputed, I know not on what evidence, to the popular notion that the people were counted for the purpose of being taxed, and that not a few had, on this account, understated to the deputy marshals the number of persons in their families".

Secretary Jefferson, when he distributed copies of the results, added a note that the number was far too low, and added in red ink his own estimation. Later censuses proved Jefferson was incorrect and that the marshals numbers were more accurate.

The marshals continued taking the census until 1870 when the Bureau of the Census was created.

Social Security was inaugurated in 1935. Since births were not generally required to be recorded prior to the early 1900's (almost everywhere in the US), it was determined that the 1880 census could be used as proof of age. Since persons born before 1870 were over 65 in 1935 and thus not eligible to sign up for Social Security. The Soundex created for the 1880 census was deliberately limited to those families who had children age 10 or under. Thus persons born after 1870 and before 1880 could use the census record as proof of their age.


Just because two families are next to each other on the census page doesn't mean they lived near each other. More often than not those listed next to each other are neighbors but no guaranties. The assumption is that the census taker visited every household in his assigned district in a systematic manner. Not only will getting their names help you sort out land records but you'll find that they witnessed each other legal documents and that they married each other. District boundaries had to be drawn somewhere. There are always going to be relatively close households that wound up in different districts and were enumerated by different people on different days.

Just because two families are at opposite ends of the census doesn't mean they were NOT neighbors. If the census taker started out on a county, beginning with his neighbor on the south, and went all over the county until he ended up back at his house with his neighbor on the east, the first and last census entries could be neighbors and were certainly living close together even if they weren't officially next door to each other. The "neighbor" problem is twofold. First, you don't know what path the census taker followed. Second, and even worse, it's impossible to draw out a path through a town for a census taker to follow that puts everybody on that path next to each of their neighbors on the census. Try it if you don't believe it. In trying it, you will gain some additional insight into the "neighbor problem" on census returns. It's a problem even in a small town with only four blocks. There are some assumptions, however, that seem relatively safe.

If you find two families you know were related and they were listed next to each other on the census, then they probably were neighbors. This assumption is warranted only because it seems improbable that two specific related families living across town from each other would end up next to each other on the census by chance. It could happen but it's not likely.

If you find two families listed next to each other in different censuses (for instance, 1840 and 1850), then they probably were neighbors. The reasoning is obvious here.

Don't stop with the Soundex findings; go back to the original census record.

Don't believe the census indexes to be either correct or complete.

Don't assume the spelling of the name is as you know it now.

Don't assume the relationship to the head of the household is as stated.

Don't assume the wife is the mother of all or any of the children.

Don't assume the ages given provide a birth year.

Don't forget to copy the info at the top of the page as well as all of the data to the right of the occupation column.

Don't forget to copy all of the entires for the surname in the county. And better look over the neighbors too! Four Smiths in a row with a Jones in between could mean Jones is married to a daughter.

Don't think the records before 1850 can't help. They may only have one name listed, but at least you'll know how many to look for in a family.

Don't think census information gives all the answers.

Don't forget the 1900 veterans census if your ancestor was in the military. Widows are also listed.

Don't forget about state census records.

The LDS Census films are copies of the National Archives films. Those early censuses were filmed back in the 30s, and the films used were very insensitive to blues, hence did a very poor job of picking up faded blue ink. There is one hope: the first filming of the 1860 census was so bad that it was re filmed later. If you were reading the roll from the first filming, you might try looking at the second filming. The LDS census film catalog lists the two filmings in two separate series. So check. If you had the first series, the second may well be better. If you had the second, though, that's all there is. You might, in that case, find the appropriate city directory of use.

The Census Bureau provides an "age search" service to the public. They will search the confidential records from the Federal population censuses of 1910 to 1990 and issue an official transcript of the results (for a congressionally mandated fee). NOTE: Information can be released only to the named person, his/her heirs, or legal representatives.

Individuals can use these transcripts, which may contain information on a person's age, sex, race, State or country of birth, and relationship to the householder, as evidence to qualify for social security and other retirement benefits, in making passport applications, to prove relationship in settling estates, in genealogy research, etc., or to satisfy other situations where a birth or other certificate may be needed but is not available.

FEE REQUIRED: $40. for a search of one census (1997) for one person only. Personal checks and money orders accepted. No credit cards.

ACCESS: Census records with individual names are not on computer. They are on microfilm, arranged according to the address at the time of the census. Most agencies require the earliest census after the date of birth.

REQUIRED: A completed BC-600 Application for Search of Census Records, signed by the person for whom the search is to be conducted. This person may authorize the results to be sent to another person/agency by also completing item 3 of the application.

Minor children - Information regarding a child who has not yet reached the legal age of 18 may be obtained by written request of either parent or guardian. A guardian must provide a copy of the court order naming them as such.

Mentally incompetent persons - Information regarding these persons may be obtained upon the written request of the legal representative, supported by a copy of the court order naming such legal representation.

Deceased persons - the application must be signed by (1) a blood relative in the immediate family (parent, child, brother, sister, grandparent), (2) the surviving wife or husband, (3) the administrator or executor of the estate, or (4) a beneficiary by will or insurance.

In all cases involving deceased persons, a copy of the death certificate must be provided and the relationship to the deceased must be stated on the application. Legal representatives must also furnish a copy of the court order naming such legal representatives, and beneficiaries must furnish legal evidence of such beneficiary evidence.

An official census transcript will list the person's name, relationship to household head, age at the time of the census, and state of birth. Citizenship will be provided if the person was foreign born. Single items of data such as occupation for Black Lung cases can be provided upon request. If a person is not found, a form will be sent with that information.

Additional data on the same person (Full Schedule) - The full schedule is the complete one line entry of personal data recorded for that individual ONLY. This will be furnished in addition to the regular transcript. There is an additional charge of $10.00 for each full schedule. They are not available for 1970, 1980, and 1990.

The normal processing time is 3 to 4 weeks. Cases are processed on a first in, first out basis. Passport and other priority cases can be processed in a week or less. To expedite, send by Next-Day Air via the Post Office or private carrier and enclose a prepaid Express return envelope. Applications can be faxed to you.

GGM-Great Grandmother
AdD-Adopted Daughter
GGGF-Great Great Grandfather
AdS-Adopted Son
GGGM-Great Great Grandmother
GU-Great uncle
Hh-Hired hand
FB-Foster brother
FF-Foster father
FM-Foster mother
FSi-Foster sister
GA-Great aunt
GGF-Great grandfather

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