Southern California Genealogical Society

Back to Basics - Look for Other American Censuses
By Barbara McKinlay

Webster defines the census as "an official, usually periodic, count of population and recording of economic status, ages, sex, etc." Most beginning genealogists are familiar with the Federal census that started in 1790, and is taken every 10 years, and most know the wonderful information it contains.

Often, however, new family searchers are unaware that there are other kinds of American special census records that can fill in the gaps in their family data. Generally, they can be located by knowing about the area of one's research, and then contacting city, county and state offices and libraries, along with the National Archives. Good reference books, like "The Source," are also very helpful.

Yes, of course, there are problems with any census--who enumerated it, who was at home when the census taker came, who gave the information, how legible the handwriting is--and, in the case of preparation for film or print, pages may stick together, get out of order, be misread, etc. For all of that, the censuses do provide data that we might never get anywhere else.

Here are some of the special censuses that have been taken over the years.

Colonial censuses. Most cities and some counties made provisions quite early for the taking of special censuses as they were needed. Usually, the constable was in charge, as in the census of New York City, 1713.

Church censuses. In areas where the church was established and supported by the civil government, the enumeration of the population was often done by church officials. Such was the census of Bristol in Plymouth Colony, now in Rhode Island, 1689.

Special territorial censuses. These were taken by the Federal government and are available from the National Archives, and probably the Family History Library as well. Examples are the censuses of the Minnesota Territory, 1857, and the Arizona Territory, 1967.

1880 Special Census of Indians. This enumeration lists the tribe, reservation, agency, number of persons in the household, Indian name, relationship to head of the family, marital and tribal status, description of the person, occupation and other pertinent pieces of information. Volumes 1 and 2 are of Indians near Fort Simcoe and at Tulalip, Wash.; Volume 3 is for Indians near Fort Yates, Dakota Territory; and Volume 4, the Indians in California. Indian agents also enumerated Native Americans from 1885 to 1942. The Records are in the National Archives. "The Source" has a good breakdown of what they contain.

Mortality Schedules. These cover the years 1850 to 1880, plus a limited census of 1885. The schedules reflect deaths from 1 June through 31 May of 1849-50, 1859-60, 1869-70, 1879-80 and 1884-85. These records were removed from Federal custody and each state was given the option of having the ones for their state. Those not claimed were given to the NSDAR. The records contain the name of the person, the age, sex, state and month of death, the cause of death and the state of birth of each parent (although not the parents' names).

Military Censuses. The 1840 Federal census contains the name and age of Revolutionary War pensioners. Many were living with their children, so the head of the household may have a different surname. This census has been published. Similarly, the 1890 Federal census has a special schedule for Union Army veterans and widows of Union Army veterans of the Civil War. Nearly all schedules A through K were destroyed by fire, but part of the Kentucky enumeration exists. It gives the veteran's rank, company, regiment or vessel, date of enlistment, date of discharge, length of service, post office and address and disability.

School censuses. In the past, regular censuses were often taken to determine the children of school age and those approaching that age. The enumeration often gives the names of the parents and the place of birth. This will often be located in the town, county or state archives, as well as local historical societies.

State censuses. Many states took a census, usually midway between the Federal censuses. This was up to the discretion of the state, and not all states elected to do this. Often surprising information turns up, because different questions were asked than in the Federal censuses. For example, the 1925 Iowa census asks for the names of the parents, including the mother's maiden name, the place of marriage of the parents, and years of education for every person living in the household. There is an excellent book that can be used as a reference to these censuses: "State Census Records," by Lainhart. "The Handy Book for Genealogists, United States of America," (The Everton Publishers Inc.), also notes the existence of state census records, and there is a good breakdown of them in "The Source, A Guidebook of American Genealogy," edited by Loretto Dennis Szucs and Sandra Hargreaves Luebking.

Start your search for any of these records at the National Archives. Then, move on to the Family History Library, and, of course, a CD. From there, try the state, county or city archives, as well as historical societies. "The Handy Book" and "The Source" will also be of help. All of these records are worthwhile, and may offer you the possibility of information you do not have at the present time.

© Barbara McKinlay. Used with permisison.


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