Where Did My Ancestor Live? How Enumeration District Maps Can Fill in the Blanks, Part 1
Where Did He Live?
When researching in U.S. Census records, have you ever wanted to locate your ancestor on the map but the census place was unclear?
This happened to me when I found my relative, James F. Maness, on the 1900 census. I checked the header info on the census form, but the ‘township or other division of county’ was listed as “4 district” and the field for ‘name of incorporated city, town, or village, within the above-named division’ was left blank.
That dang census taker! Why did he leave it blank?
I soon realized that the census taker did not make a mistake. He was following the Instructions to Enumerators for the 1900 census which say: “the census act contemplates that the population should be returned for every incorporated community, but not for any group of inhabitants not incorporated. Unincorporated communities are to be taken as part of the population of the township or other civil division of the county where found. Do not give the local name by which any unincorporated community is known.” (Instruction #79).
This is all well and good for the census bureau and their population statistics, but how can a researcher learn where these unincorporated parts of counties were located and what communities they include? If you want to know a town or area where a person lived, let’s face it – “4 District” is just not very descriptive.
The interactive census viewer from Ancestry.com (below) gave more descriptive place information: “Civil District 4” and a community by the name of “New Hope.”
But where did the name “New Hope” come from? It wasn’t written on the actual census page anywhere. And what are civil districts and enumeration districts? I’ll answer these questions in this 3 part series: Where Did My Ancestor Live? How Enumeration District Maps Can Fill in the Blanks.
Part 1: Enumeration District Descriptions
Enumeration District Descriptions
An enumeration district (ED), as used by the Bureau of the Census, is an area that could be covered by a single census taker in one census period. Is there a way to find out what communities were included in each ED? Let’s find out.
Let’s use the example of James F. Maness in the 1900 census. The header info in the interactive census viewer above seems to say that ED #79 included civil district 4 and 16, named New Hope and Upper Beech Creek. How did Ancestry.com know this? I looked at the other images in the collection, but none of them said “New Hope” anywhere.
If you look at the collection information from Ancestry.com you can see where they got their enumeration district info from. At the bottom of the Ancestry.com 1900 Census Collection page, it says “ED Description data came from The National Archives and One-Step by Stephen P. Morse.”
This refers to the Stephen Morse’s One Step Census ED Definition Finder and other one-step tools on Morse’s website.
Stephen Morse’s ED Definition finder is a handy tool. You put in the state and county and it gives you a list of enumeration districts within that county and their descriptions.
When I searched for the descriptions of Hawkins County EDs, this list was returned:
The list shows each of the 19 enumeration districts in Hawkins County and which county divisions they include. The name of Tennessee’s county divisions are “civil districts.” Other states call them townships, precincts, etc. The description not only includes the civil district number, but the name of the community or town within it. Sometimes, a town spanned more than one civil district or enumeration district. As you can see, Rogersville town was broken into two EDs because it couldn’t be covered by a single enumerator in one census period. In the case of ED #79, the census taker could cover two entire civil districts in one census period because they were sparsely populated.
Stephen Morse obtained these 1900 census ED descriptions from “ED maps from NARA A3378, the census schedules themselves, ED descriptions on T1210, as well as drawing census districts on old maps and transcribing streets from that drawing.” (Stephen Morse, FAQs). Descriptions for EDs in other census years are found on NARA Microfilm Publication T1224.
The census bureau wrote descriptions of each ED and mapped them. The NARA microfilm publications that contain the ED descriptions are not available online and that is why Stephen Morse’s tool is so useful. Many of the ED maps are online and I will discuss them in part 3.
Armed with this information, I was ready to find the 1900 location of James Maness on a map. From the Instructions to Enumerators, I learned that “4 District” included an unincorporated community in Hawkins County. The name of the community was “New Hope,” as I learned from Ancestry.com (who got it from Stephen Morse’s website, who got it from ED descriptions and maps held by NARA).
I searched google maps. Sure enough, New Hope, Hawkins, Tennessee (as opposed to 4 District) was easy to find – it’s present day location, at least.
And as you know, present day locations are not the same as historical locations. So, you may ask, is there a way to see where New Hope was back in 1900? Yes!
Also – New Hope was just one community within Civil District 4. Is there a way to find out District 4’s exact boundaries? Yes!