9 Alternatives to Federal Census Records

9 Alternatives to Federal Census Records

There's more to the census than those every-10-years counts. These "extra" censuses of select populations may have just the ancestor answers you need.

 
Sometimes you need a little extra help—a pep talk, a confidence booster, a loan, an aspirin—to deal with life’s challenges. That’s true, too, of genealogy research. When leads dry up and ancestors refuse to be found, a new resource can restore the glimmer of hope that keeps you scrolling microfilm and searching the Internet. Nine lesser-known, under-used special censuses may be just the extra help you need to fill in blanks on your family tree.
 
You’re probably accustomed to using federal population censuses, either online or on microfilm. These enumerations, taken every 10 years starting in 1790, were intended to cover the entire country. On the other hand, the government took special censuses (also called nonpopulation censuses) to count unique segments of the population or create snapshots of communities. Taken variously during and between regular census years, these enumerations counted farms, veterans, factories, American Indians and other groups.
 
Not all special census records survived, and many aren’t yet available online. But if your ancestors are listed, you can learn things you might not find in any other record. Here’s the special help you need to use these special resources.

1. Schedule of defective, dependent and delinquent classes

In 1880, a special census gathered information about the physically disabled, the mentally ill, homeless children and prison inmates. To see if your ancestor might be listed, first find him in the regular 1880 population census. There’s a free index on FamilySearch.org and Ancestry.com, but you’ll need to actually see the record. You can access census images with a subscription to Ancestry.com, or view them for free on HeritageQuest Online, available through many public libraries. Censuses also are available on microfilm at large public libraries, National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) facilities, and the Family History Library (FHL) in Salt Lake City and its branch FamilySeach Centers. You can rent FHL film by visiting a FamilySearch Center near you.

 
On your ancestor’s census listing, look carefully for marks in columns 15 through 20, showing whether the person is sick or temporarily disabled; blind; deaf and dumb; idiotic; insane; or maimed, crippled, bedridden or otherwise disabled. A mark in these columns means you should look for more information about your ancestor in the schedules of “defective, dependent and delinquent classes” (abbreviated as the 1880 DDDs). Separate schedules list the indigent, blind, deaf and dumb, and other designations.
 
You might be surprised to find a relative. What we know today as postpartum depression and menopause could get women of the past temporarily or permanently committed. I first found Mary Ann Vance in the 1880 population schedule of Ohio, with a tick mark under the “insane” column. She was on the 1880 DDD schedule, which revealed that her first “mania” attack struck at age 43, and she was in the Athens, Ohio, Insane Asylum.
 
These records aren’t in online census databases and may be challenging to find on microfilm. A few are available through the FHL; run a place search of the online catalog for the state, then look under censuses. NARA has some DDD microfilm,

too. But most DDD records are housed in repositories in each state. Download a state-by-state locations cheat sheet from FamilyTreeMagazine.com.

2. Agricultural censuses

Many of our ancestors raised crops and livestock for a living. These schedules offer a glimpse of farms, even the numbers and kinds of produce and livestock. When you’re writing your family history, this information can round out your ancestor’s life story. If your ancestor was one of two men with the same name living in the same community, these schedules can be especially helpful—after all, no two people would own exactly the same acreage of land with identical numbers of livestock.

 
Just look at the rich details about John Hillman’s farm in Wise County, Va.: In 1860, he owned 60 acres of improved land and 1,200 acres of unimproved land, for a cash value of $2,000. His farming implements and machinery totaled $10. He owned $247 worth of livestock, including one horse, three milch cows, 10 sheep and 29 swine. The previous year, he grew 20 bushels of rye, 150 of Indian corn, 2 of peas and beans, and 4 of flaxseed. He produced 15 pounds of wool, 75 of butter, 75 of flax and 40 of maple syrup. His homemade manufacture was valued at $25; animals slaughtered, $75.
 
Though agricultural censuses were taken during every census year from 1850 to 1910, only the 1850 through 1880 schedules are available. The 1890 count was destroyed in the same fire that ruined the 1890 population census. The 1900 and 1910 agricultural schedules were destroyed, unmicrofilmed, by Congressional order.
 
The 1850 and 1860 agricultural census enumerated farms with an annual produce worth $100 or more. In 1870 and 1880, farms of three or more acres—or those with an annual produce worth $500 or more—were counted. Schedules list the name of the owner, agent or tenant along with the kind and value of acreage, machinery, livestock and produce.
 
Agricultural censuses for 1850 through 1880 are grouped on microfilm with manufacturing and industry schedules (see the next section) as “nonpopulation census schedules.” The film is organized by state at NARA facilities (click here for a list) and the FHL. State archives and libraries may have copies.
 
Ancestry.com has indexed the 1850 through 1880 schedules. The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill has both types of censuses on microfilm for 15 Southern states online.

3. Manufacturing and industry censuses

These schedules enumerated manufacturing, mining, fisheries, mercantile, commercial and trading business. Information
collected varies by year, but generally includes the name of the company or owner, the kind of business, capital invested, and the quantity and value of materials, labor, machinery and products.

 
The first manufacturing census was taken in 1810, but unfortunately, it’s lost except for a few microfilmed schedules among the population census schedules. The second was taken in 1820. None was compiled in 1830, and only statistical information was recorded in 1840. Manufacturing censuses taken in 1850, 1860 and 1870 are called industry schedules, and include data on businesses with an annual gross product of $500 or more.
 
If your ancestor owned a business, you’ll learn a lot about his work. John Welch of Coxsockie, Green County, NY, appears in the 1870 industry schedule. He was a tailor who had $1,000 invested in his business. In his store were two Singer sewing machines, as well as 200 yards of cloth worth $300. The kind of power he used? His hands.
 
Though the schedules don’t list other employees’ names, they offer a picture of where the workers spent their days. Also look at schedules for the area where your ancestor lived—no doubt he patronized some of those industries. Armed with business names, you might be able to find old account books listing your ancestor’s purchases.
 
The 1820 schedules are on 27 rolls of microfilm in NARA’s record group 29, arranged alphabetically by county within each state. Each roll contains an index.
 
Manufacturing/industry schedules for 1850 through 1880 are microfilmed with agricultural censuses for those years—see the at-a-glance section below for help finding them.

4. Slave schedules

Mary Fitzhugh of Orange County, Va., owned 10 slaves in 1850; they appear to be grouped on the slave schedule by mother and children:

In 1850 and 1860, slaves were enumerated on separate schedules. These list the name of the slave owner, not the slaves themselves. For each owner, the schedule recorded the number of slaves owned and the number released from slavery. The enumerator also inventoried slaves, listing sex, age, color, fugitive status, and whether each was deaf-mute, blind, insane or idiotic.

female    age 49    mulatto
female    age 40    mulatto
male       age 8      mulatto
male       age 6      mulatto
male       age 4      mulatto
female    age 24    mulatto
female    age 7      mulatto
female    age 4      mulatto
male       age 1      mulatto
male       age 35    black

Although slave schedules don’t give slaves’ names, you still can use them to learn about enslaved ancestors. You’ll need a good idea of where your ancestors lived or their slaveholder’s name, then examine schedules for slave families that fit your ancestors’ sexes and ages. For more help with this process, see A Genealogist’s Guide to Discovering Your African-American Ancestors by Emily Anne Croom and Franklin Smith (Genealogical Publishing Co., $37.95).

 
Slave schedules are online at Ancestry.com, or you can view them on microfilm at the FHL, FamilySearch Centers and the NARA. All available 1850 slave schedules are also indexed on FamilySearch.org.

5. Indian censuses

Researchers with American Indian ancestors will appreciate special Indian censuses including separate census-year schedules, annual reservation censuses and Indian school enumerations:

  • Special Indian schedules: American Indians were enumerated on the 1880 federal census just like the general population, unless they weren’t taxed. Those who didn’t pay taxes appeared on schedules of a Special Census of Indians (National Archives micropublication M1791). For the 1900 and 1910 censuses, American Indians might be listed on special schedules called Inquiries Relating to Indians, found along with the regular population schedules. In 1920 and 1930, Indians were enumerated on general population schedules.

    Special inquiry schedules may give the name of the tribe, the federal reservation and the governing Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) agency. For each household, you may learn the type of dwelling and number of residents, and each person’s Indian name, relationship to the head of the household, marital status, tribal status, occupation, education and land ownership status. Sometimes these special schedules contain enumerators’ notes.

    For example, on the 1910 census for the Indian population in Modoc County, Calif., the census taker wrote near a group of names, “Left to go into Nevada on a hunting trip the day before I visited camp. Will not be counted elsewhere.” And he recorded not only the state where each person and his parents were born, but the city as well.

  • Annual reservation censuses: From 1885 to 1940, Indian agents were supposed to take annual censuses of federal reservations in their jurisdiction. In actuality, this happened more randomly than annually. Search these censuses on Ancestry.com and Fold3.com. The records also are organized by agency on 692 rolls of microfilm at the FHL and NARA facilities. To determine which rolls you need, download the Indian Census Rolls, 1885-1940 PDF. The Dawes Commission compiled an Indian census card index for schedules from 1898 to 1914 to verify rights to tribal status for the Five Civilized Tribes (Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole). The index is available at the FHL and at the National Archives regional branch in Fort Worth, Texas.
  • Indian school censuses: From 1910 to 1939, the BIA took censuses of Indian schools. These enumerations recorded details about children ages 6 to 18—their sex, tribe, degree of Indian blood, the distance from home to school, school attendance and a parent’s or guardian’s name. Often, they also include the mother’s maiden name. Look for the schedules in the NARA regional branch covering the area where the tribe was located (click here).

6. Mortality schedules

During some regular population censuses, enumerators recorded the names of people who died during the 12-month period prior to the official census date. (Because enumerators couldn’t reach every US household in a day or even a month, they recorded everyone’s age as of a pre-determined date.) Though some omissions occurred, the resulting mortality schedules are particularly useful in states that came late to official death recording, and might explain an unexpected absence from the census.

 
Extant mortality schedules cover deaths from June 1 through May 31 of 1849–1850, 1859–1860, 1869–1870, 1879–1880, and 1884–1885. The last one took place only in those states or territories that took the 1885 special census.
 
The 1890 mortality schedule was destroyed along with the rest of that census. The 1900 schedule survived only for Minnesota; it’s available in Minnesota 1900 Census Mortality Schedule by James W. Warren ($9 from Amazon.com).
 
Even if your ancestor didn’t die at the right time to be included in a mortality schedule, you can get a feel for epidemics and illnesses that killed others around the time your ancestor died. If your ancestor was considerate enough to die during one of the 12-month periods mentioned above, a mortality schedule should list his name, sex, age, color, free or slave status, marital status, birthplace (state, territory or country), occupation, month and cause of death, and number of days ill. Keep in mind that the cause of death might not be completely accurate—diagnoses weren’t supported by X-rays, blood tests or microscopic tissue examinations, as they are today. They were based on signs and symptoms, which are similar for many diseases.
 
You can find mortality schedules online at Ancestry.com, or on microfilm at the FHL, FamilySearch Centers and NARA facilities. Some states’ 1850 mortality schedules are searchable free on FamilySearch. And look for published abstracts at genealogical libraries.

7. Social statistics schedules

Though you won’t find your ancestors listed on social statistics schedules—taken from 1850 to 1870 and in 1885—they’ll give you a detailed picture of the community where your relatives lived. For each county, you get data on estate values, annual taxes, wages, schools, seasons and crops, libraries, newspapers and periodicals, churches, pauperism and crime. Enumerators also recorded cemeteries with general descriptions and addresses (some even included a map with cemeteries marked), procedures for interment, whether the cemetery was active and, if not, the reason for closing. You might find lists of trade societies, lodges, clubs and other groups, with addresses, major branches and the executive officers’ names. Churches may be accompanied by historical details, statements of doctrine and policy, and membership numbers.

 
If you know your ancestor’s occupation, for example, you can find out what he probably earned. The 1870 social statistics for El Paso County, Colo., show the average wage for a farmhand was $25 per month. The typical laborer earned $2.50 per day ($1.50 with board); a carpenter, $4.50. A female domestic worker brought in about $6.40 per week.
 
The Government Printing Office compiled the social statistics into a series of reports; some are downloadable as PDF files. You can also find them in the government document sections of most public and university libraries. Otherwise, try NARA or the FHL.

8. Veterans and military censuses

The US and state governments counted veterans a number of times, both during and between regular censuses:

  • Revolutionary War pensioners: Names and ages of these pensioners were recorded on the backs of 1840 population census sheets. Their names are in A Census of Pensioners for Revolutionary or Military Services, available free through Google Books.
  • 1890 veterans schedule: Although the bulk of the 1890 census was destroyed, the schedules of Union veterans and surviving widows survived for half of Kentucky and the states alphabetically following it. Check this census even if your ancestor fought for the Confederacy.

    Although enumerators were supposed to count Union veterans, some also recorded those who fought for the South. Officials who reviewed the schedules in Washington, DC, simply drew lines through the Confederates’ names, leaving them still readable. The schedules are online at Ancestry.com and on microfilm at the FHL and NARA facilities, as well as large genealogical libraries.
    What can you learn from this enumeration? The name of the veteran or his widow, rank, company, regiment or vessel, dates of enlistment and discharge, length of service, disabilities and remarks such as whether the veteran received a pension.

    James H. Goforth, for example, appears on the 1890 veterans schedule as a resident Morgan Township, Dade County, Mo. After enlisting Nov. 1, 1864, he served as a private in Company 2, 15th Regiment Missouri Cavalry, and was discharged June 30, 1865. He was afflicted with lung disease and was receiving a pension. As with population schedules, we don’t know whether James or someone else supplied the information, so look for a military service record to corroborate the data.

  • Special military schedules: During the 1900, 1910 and 1920 federal population censuses, enumerators created separate schedules for military personnel, including those stationed on naval vessels and at US bases overseas. For 1900, these are on NARA microfilm T623, rolls 1,838 to 1,842 (find a Soundex index on film T1081, rolls 1 to 32). For 1910, military and naval enumerations are on film T624, roll 1,784; there’s no Soundex. The 1920 schedules for overseas military and naval forces are on film T625, rolls 2,040 to 2,041; the Soundex is on film M1600, rolls 1 to 18. The 1930 population census included servicemen, but you’ll find special schedules for merchant seamen serving on vessels. Search them on Ancestry.com, or browse them on microfilm at the FHL and NARA. These special enumerations certainly can deliver unique details about your ancestors.

9. State and local censuses

Just as the federal government counted the US population every 10 years, a number of states took regular or semi-regular enumerations. New York, for example, took state censuses in 1825, 1835, 1845, 1855, 1865, 1875, 1892, 1905, 1915 and 1925; all are open to the public. Other states held “one-off” censuses, such as the Kansas State Board of Agriculture’s 1885 count.

 
Five states or territories took an 1885 census, which, if you’re so lucky as to have ancestors there, can help you replace the missing 1890 federal census. Colorado, Dakota Territory, Florida, Nebraska and New Mexico Territory took advantage of the federal government’s offer to subsidize a census that year. Four schedules make up this census: population, mortality, agricultural and manufacturing. Ancestry.com has 1885 census records for some areas. Also try running a Google search on the state or county and “1885 census” to turn up free online resources such as the Larimer County, Colo., 1885 index.
 

Information recorded varies with the state and time period. In some state censuses, you’ll find details about immigration, citizenship and ethnicity—important for descendants of immigrant “birds of passage,” who may be missing from federal censuses due to repeated travel between the United States and their homelands.
 
A few states took military censuses, such as the Dakotas’ 1885 Civil War veterans census (on NARA microfilm GR27, roll 5). To see if your ancestral state did so, run a place search of the FHL catalog and look under both the census and military topic headings.

Check with the state archives or run a Google search on the state name and census records for information about ancestral state censuses. For a state-by-state listing of these schedules and their availability, see Ann S. Lainhart’s State Census Records (Genealogical Publishing Co., $21.00). Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org have some state censuses; also look for them on microfilm at the FHL and local libraries. 

Special Schedules At A Glance

Consult this list to see which special censuses might cover your ancestors:

 
Defective, dependent and delinquent schedules: 1880

Agricultural censuses: 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880
Manufacturing and industry schedules: 1820, 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880
Slave schedules: 1850, 1860
Mortality schedules: 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1885 (some areas), 1900 (Minnesota only)
US state/territorial census: 1885 (some areas)
Social statistics schedules: 1850, 1860, 1870, 1885 

American Indians
  • Indian schedules: 1880, 1900, 1910
  • Indian reservation censuses: 1885 to 1940
  • Indian school censuses: 1910 to 1939
Military
  • Revolutionary War pensioners: 1840
  • Civil War veterans schedule: 1890 (half of Kentucky and states following alphabetically)
  • Schedules of military personnel on bases and vessels (including overseas): 1900, 1910, 1920
  • Schedules of merchant seamen on vessels: 1930
 

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