U.S. Federal Census Information

U.S. Federal Census Information

MARCH 1998

United States census data is a critical resource for genealogical research. The federal government began collecting population census data in 1790. Since that time censuses have been taken every ten years. The most recent census that is available to the public is the 1920 census. All of the 1890 census was destroyed by fire - except for 6,160 names.

The federal government considers census data confidential for seventy-two years following the census, however, it is possible to request data for a deceased relative for censuses since 1920. These requests must be submitted on Form BC-600 which can be obtained from the Bureau of the Census, P.O. Box 1545, Jeffersonville, IN, 47131.

The information contained in each census has changed over the years. The following summary describes the type of information that was collected during each period:

1790-1840 During this period, the census lists the name of the head of household. It does not give the names of other people living in the house. The number of other people living in the household, grouped by age and sex, is given.

The 1800-1840 censuses increased the number of age group categories. These censuses also give the number of slaves in the household.

1850 - Beginning in 1850, the census lists the name, age, sex, color, occupation(of those over 15 years old), birthplace (country or state), married within the year, attended school this year, cannot read or write, and whether deaf, blind, insane, etc, of each person living in the household.

1860 - This census was the first to inquire about the value of each free person's personal estate.

1870 - This census also indicates if the parents of the individual were born in a foreign country and asked about the U.S. citizenship of every man 21 years or older.

1880 - Beginning in 1880, the birthplace (country or state) of the parents of each individual was added.This census also identified the relationship between the listed individuals and the head of the household(wife, son, daughter, servant, boarder, or other). The 1880 census was also the first to be indexed by a sound code (Soundex). However, in 1880, households were indexed only if there was a child under 10 years old living at the residence. This means that an older couple without young children living at home would not be included on the Soundex listing. [Webmaster's note: this was done at the establishment of the Social Security program because so many people didn't have birth certificates; their listing in the census was used as their proof of age.] If a child lived in the home of someone else, the child would be listed under their own name - unless the head of household had the same last name. There are other indexes for some areas.

1890 - The 1890 census was destroyed by a fire at the Commerce Department in 1921. A few records were saved for some areas in Alabama, the District of Columbia, Georgia, Illinois, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, South Dakota, and Texas. There is no Soundex for this census. There was also a census in 1890 of Union veterans and widows of Union veterans. Some of these records were also destroyed in the fire. Part of the census for Kentucky and the states that follow Kentucky alphabetically were saved.

1900 - The 1900 census added the number of years the individual had been married, the year of immigration, citizenship status, the month and year of birth, number of months not employed, number of months attended school, can't speak English, home owned or rented, mortgage status, farm or house, and for married women, the number of children and the number of those children then living.

1910 - The 1910 census was similar to 1900 except that only the age of the individual - not the month and year of birth - was given. This census indicated if survivor Union, Confederate, Army, or Navy. Also, additional detail concerning the occupation of the listed individuals was added. This census also indicated if deaf or blind or dumb.

1920 - In 1920 the year of naturalization was added. This census also included the 'mother tongue' of the individual and parents. Some items were deleted: number of years of present marriage, number of children born to mother and the number living, whether survivor of Union, Confederate, Army, or Navy, weeks out of work, and if blind, deaf, or dumb.

The list below shows the availability of census indexes by state through 1870:

ALABAMA-1810, 1820, 1830, 1840, 1850, 1860, 1870
ARKANSAS-1819-39, 1820, 1830, 1840, 1850, 1860, 1870
ARIZONA-1864-66, 1860, 1870
CALIFORNIA-1850, 1860, 1870
COLORADO-1860, 1870
CONNECTICUT-1790, 1810, 1820, 1830, 1840, 1850, 1860
DC-1800, 1810, 1820, 1830, 1840, 1850, 1860, 1870
DELAWARE-1790, 1800, 1810, 1820, 1830, 1840, 1850, 1860, 1870
FLORIDA-1820, 1830, 1840, 1850, 1860, 1870
GEORGIA-1790, 1800, 1810, 1820, 1830, 1840, 1850, 1860, 1870
IOWA-1836, 1840, 1850, 1860, 1870
ILLLINOIS-1807, 1820, 1830, 1840, 1850, 1860, 1870
INDIANA-1807, 1820, 1830, 1840, 1850, 1860, 1870
KANSAS-1855, 1860, 1870
KENTUCKY-1790, 1800, 1810, 1820, 1830, 1840, 1850, 1860, 1870
LOUISANA-1810, 1820, 1830, 1840, 1850, 1860, 1870
MASSACHUSETTS-1790, 1800, 1810, 1820, 1830, 1840, 1850, 1860
MARYLAND-1790, 1800, 1810, 1820, 1830, 1840, 1850, 1860
MAINE-1790, 1800, 1810, 1820, 1830, 1840, 1850, 1860
MICHIGAN-1799-1827, 1820, 1830, 1840, 1850, 1860, 1870
MINNEAPOLIS-1840, 1850, 1870
MISSOURI-1820, 1830, 1840, 1850, 1860, 1870
MISSISSIPPI-1810, 1820, 1830, 1840, 1850, 1860, 1870
MONTANA-1860, 1870
NORTH CAROLINA-1790, 1800, 1810, 1820, 1830, 1840, 1850, 1860, 1870
NEBRASKA-1854-56, 1860, 1870
NEW HAMPSHIRE-1790, 1800, 1810, 1820, 1830, 1840, 1850, 1860
NEW JERSEY-1800, 1820, 1830, 1840, 1850, 1860
NEW MEXICO-1790-1845, 1850, 1860, 1870
NEVADA-1860, 1870
NEW YORK-1790, 1800, 1810, 1820, 1830, 1840, 1850, 1860
OHIO-1800, 1810, 1820, 1830, 1840, 1850, 1860, 1880
OKLAHOMA-1860, 1870
OREGON-1850, 1860, 1870
PENNSYLVANIA-1790, 1800, 1810, 1820, 1830, 1840, 1850, 1860, 1870
RHODE ISLAND-1790, 1800, 1810, 1820, 1830, 1840, 1850, 1860, 1870
SOUTH CAROLINA-1790, 1800, 1810, 1820, 1830, 1840, 1850, 1860, 1870
TENNESSEE-1820, 1830, 1840, 1850, 1860, 1870
TEXAS-1829, 1839, 1849, 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880
UTAH-1850, 1860, 1870
VIRGINIA-1790, 1800, 1810, 1820, 1830, 1840, 1850, 1860, 1870
VERMONT-1790, 1800, 1810, 1820, 1830, 1840, 1850, 1860
WASHINGTON-1850, 1860, 1870
WISCONSIN-1836, 1840, 1850, 1860
WEST VIRGINIA-1860, 1870
WYOMING-1860, 1870

The following article came from GRS Newsletter Volume 1, Edition 1. If you would like to subscribe to this free newsletter with a distribution of over 25,000, please send an email with the subject line of:


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COPYRIGHTS: "The following article is from GRS Monthly Newsletter and is copyright 1997 by GRS. It is re-published here with permission of the author."

1. Genealogist's Greatest Loss: What Happened to the 1890 Federal Census?

Many genealogy researchers have become frustrated once they began searching for the 1890 US Federal Census. Soon, the researchers learn the 1890 Schedules was destroyed by a fire in the National Archives in 1921. This statement is only partially true. Part of the census was lost in 1921 but the fate of the remaining schedules stands testament to the dangers of government miscommunication and red tape.

The Eleventh Census of the United States taken in June 1890 would have provided a wonderful study of our country if available today. Over 47,000 enumerators usually chosen by political appointment, distributed the schedules in advance to give the residents time to complete the forms. Once completed the population of the US topped over 62 million individuals.

Shortly before publication in 1896, the original 1890 special schedules for mortality, crime, pauperism and benevolence, special classes, and portions of the transportation and insurance schedules were damaged and finally destroyed by the Department of the Interior. However, according to a 1903 census clerk the general population schedules seem to be in good shape.

In the afternoon of January 10, 1921, the schedules were located in the basement of the Commerce Building. That afternoon, building fireman James Foster reported seeing smoke. The fire department was called.

The fire was contained to the basement level of the building but flooded most of the area. Once extinguished no immediate surveys were done of the damage. The records were allowed to remain soaking in water overnight. The next morning when the damage was assessed. The census director, Sam Rogers sent a note to the Secretary of Commerce reporting:

"...a cursory examination show that the census schedules from 1790 to and including 1870, with the exception of those for 1830 and 1840, are on the fifth floor of the Commerce Building and have not been damaged. The schedules of the censuses of 1830, 1840, 1880, 1900 and 1910 have been damaged by water, and it is estimated that ten percent of these schedules will have to be opened and dried and some of them recopied." These schedules were located in the basement in a vault considered at the time to be fire and waterproof. However, the archivist had discovered a small broken pane of glass, which allowed water to seep in damaging the schedules located in low shelves.

The 1890 schedule did not fair as well. It was located outside the vault. Director Sam Rogers continued and reported in the same document to the Secretary of Commerce the damage.

"Approximately 25 percent of these schedules have been destroyed and it is estimated the 50 per cent of the remainder have been damaged by water, smoke and fire."

The preliminary report by Census Bureau Clerk T. J. Fitzgerald was much more pessimistic. Fitzgerald reported that the 1890 records were ruined and that no method of restoration would be capable of restoring the records.

The cause of the 1921 fire was never determined. Although some speculate that a worker in the basement was smoking and set off the blaze. Others believe that bundles of papers spontaneously combusted causing the blaze.

The remaining schedules of the 1890 census abandoned by the government, survived for many years. Rumors speculated that Census Director Sam Rogers had recommended that the schedules be destroyed. The public and historians were outraged and began a letter writing campaign. Each letter received much the same reply. Everyone was told that the records were no going to be destroyed and plans were being made to provide a suitable archive.

In May of 1921, the census remained in temporary storage and the new census director William Steuart reported they would gradually deteriorate. The records were returned to the census building for storage at Stueart's order.

Ten years would pass and finally in December of 1932, the Chief clerk of the Bureau of Census sent the Librarian of Congress a list of papers to destroy.

Included in the list was Item 22, "Schedules, Population-1890, Original." The librarian gave the okay to destroy the list of records including the 1890 Census Schedule. Congress authorized the destruction and February 21, 1933. Only a small note in the census bureau file marks the official demise of the record. It state "remaining schedules destroyed by Department of Commerce in 1934 (not approved by the Geographer.)"

Sadly, just one day before Congress authorized the destruction of the census; President Herbert Hoover laid the cornerstone of the permanent National Archives building.

Of course, many researchers fail to realize that some of the original schedule still exists. In 1942 during the move to the new building a bundle of the Illinois schedules appeared during a shipment. In 1953, more fragments were discovered including those from Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, South Dakota, Texas and the District of Columbia. The remnants of the 1890 census have been filmed and are available through many sources. There are only three rolls of microfilm containing the records. Only about 6,000 names are listed on these precious pieces of our past.

Many researchers lament over the loss of these records but we must be grateful that most pages of the United States Federal Census Schedules survived. Imagine just how difficult North American research would be without the census.

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