Did you know that the individual giving the family’s information in the 1940 census is marked with an X? Or how about the estimated 1.2 million Southerners missing in the 1870 census? These are just two of the fascinating and helpful discoveries I made last week as I studied more about the history and details found in U.S. Federal Census records.
In working toward my Accreditation goal, I am studying each major record group suggested by the ICAPGen website. For the Gulf South region, I need to know census records very well. I have used census records for years and thought I had this record type down, but there is always more to learn. I studied two very helpful books to gain a deeper understanding of the U.S. Federal Censuses. The links to the books below, on Amazon.com, are affiliate links. If you click the link and make a purchase, we receive a commission. Thank you for your support.
As I read my way through Your Guide to the Federal Census for genealogists, researchers, and family historians by Kathleen W. Hinckley, I jotted down several new facts about the census. Easy to read and full of fascinating examples, this book entertained me for hours. My favorite part was reading the diary of a young woman hired as an enumerator and her accounts of tracking down individuals in the late 1800’s to ask their names, ages, etc. Apparently the women all wanted to know how old their neighbors were. Hmm, not much has changed, has it!
Map guide to the U.S. Federal Censuses 1790-1920 by William Thorndale and William Dollarhide has been my go-to guide for years in researching my family. The introduction lists facts about each of the censuses. The book is then organized by state and shows the county boundaries for each census year with the current county boundaries underlaid. Because my families seemed to be always living on the frontier, the county boundary changes are key to tracking down their records. I use this book to not only track them in the census but also to decide where to search for vital records, court records, etc.
So, what did I discover from these two informative books? Here are a few fun facts, in no particular order:
1. Enumerators were to count the family as of the specific census date. If the census date was 1 June 1850 and the census taker visited the home on 30 August 1850, the new baby born 20 August 1850 was not supposed to be listed.
2. Depending on the census year, census workers had from one month to twelve months to complete the census. This resulted in occasional duplicate listings if a family had moved within that time period to a new Enumeration District.
3. It wasn’t until the 1830 Census that the government supplied printed forms. Before that the enumerators had to write on whatever paper they had. In Kathleen Hinckley’s book, she includes a census page written on floral wallpaper!
4. The 1860 census was the first to note Native Americans, but only Native Americans who paid taxes. Not listed were all who were living on reservations or in tribes in unsettled territories.
5. Families listed next to each other on the census may have not been living next to each other. Especially in rural areas, the census enumerator would often deviate from a straight course in their effort to locate families.
6. Because of the aftermath of the Civil War, an estimated 1.2 million Southerners were not enumerated on the 1870 census. This explains why I cannot find some of my ancestors anywhere in that census, since they were all living in the south!
7. The 1890 Veteran’s Schedule was supposed to be just for Union Army Veterans, but often a Confederate Veteran or a veteran of another war is listed, then crossed out. You can generally still make out the veteran’s name.
8. The denomination of clergy was to be noted under the occupation heading. To get a clue about your ancestor’s church affiliation, find the person who performed his marriage in the census and see if his denomination is noted.
9. In 1940, an Ab next to a name means that family member is absent for whatever reason. Could shed some light on the family’s history.
10.In the 1940 census, an X marks the individual giving the household information. Don’t we wish we knew who the informant was on all of the other censuses . . .
The 1940 census shows my grandfather, Charles L. Shults as the informant (X), his wife Ettie, and children: Claude H, Bobbie (my dad, called Bobby by his relatives his entire life), and Helen. Next door is my Great Grandfather William H Shults and children Orval and Christine.
Ettie and Charles L Shults with Bobby, Helen, and Claude H.
Studying about the census turned out to be such a useful exercise, I can’t wait to tackle the next record type. What fun facts have you discovered in the U.S. Federal Census?
I have a question that has me baffled about the 1940 census. My aunt was born May 22, 1940. The census taker was to record the child’s birth as of April 1. On the census her age is given as 11/12, which I read as she was born May 22, 1939. Is there a possibility that the census taker could have been wrong, or was there some reason the family chose to represent her as one year younger than she was. She was the second child. My mom was the first and was born May 16, 1938 and her age was reported as being 2 years old. Having two children 12 months apart would have been pretty quick, but could be a possibility.
This is a really interesting situation. I have some questions to clarify what’s going on here. What is the date of the actual census (written at the top of the page)? Who gave the information (marked with a star)? Do other records all show the May 22, 1940 birthdate?
There is always room for error with the census records, but before we can make a good evaluation, we need to know a little more.
A baby born after 1 April 1940 should not have been recorded on the census. The actual instructions to enumerators say: “The Census Day – There should be a return on the Population Schedule for each person alive at the beginning of the census day, i. e., 12: 01 A. M. on April 1, 1940.”
The enumerators finished canvassing within the first couple weeks of April. It sounds to me like your aunt was born in 1939! If she were really born on May 22, 1940, the census taker would have just seen a pregnant woman, no baby, since that is a month and a half after the census taker was supposed to have come.
What sources did you obtain your aunt’s birth year from? Sometimes the memory of family members isn’t perfect so many years after the fact. I would check the birth certificate!
Excellent post! I learned several new tips about the United States census even though I had been searching census records for years!
Thanks Ruth! There is always something new to be learned – which is why we love doing genealogy.