Carolyn Earle Billingsley's Web Site

Overlooked Census Data: Reading Those Orphan Columns

Description
Genealogists tend to read census returns for names, relationships, ages, and birthplaces, but there are many other columns of information that are usually overlooked, and which can be extremely useful. Learning about this overlooked data can jumpstart your census research.

Intended Audience:
Beginner, Intermediate

Summary of presentation:

Genealogists tend to read census returns for names, relationships, ages, and birthplaces, but there are many other columns of information that are usually overlooked, and which can be extremely useful. Among the many other items of interest are:

  • Immigration facts
  • Voting status after the Civil War
  • Whether or not a man served in the military and whether Union or Confederate
  • The value of the home, the land, the personal property
  • Whether or not they had a mortgage on their property
  • If they owned a radio
  • The name of the road lived on, or, in towns, the house number and street
  • The number of children a woman has ever given birth to
  • The number of children “now” living
  • The age at first marriage
  • How many years a couple has been married
  • The language spoken
  • Whether individuals are literate
  • Whether children are attending school
  • If the family lived on a farm or not
  • The difference between “farmer” and “farm laborer”
  • If someone was working on their “own account” (OA) and what that meant
  • Race, and what categories were available to the enumerator

This is only a partial list of the census items often overlooked by beginners, and even more experienced researchers. And, in each case, recognizing the data and what it means can lead to more sources. For example, if there is a value listed under “real estate,” researchers should know to look for deeds at the county level as well as government land sales, and real-estate tax records. Also, the fact that a person had a real estate value listed should nudge the genealogist to think in terms of that person having an estate to be probated at the time of death, and/or a guardianship for his or her children at the county level.

Additionally, having land usually means a farm and that should lead the knowledgeable researcher to the U.S. Federal Census Agricultural Schedules; and although these aren’t often indexed, the audience will learn that this special schedule was in the same order as the Population Schedule for that area.

In this lecture, the little-used census columns will be pointed out and explained, along with explanations of other sources this new data might point to or insights that might be revealed. Moreover, the audience will be introduced to the utility of the non-population census schedules.