Every decade since 1790, the federal government has taken a census of US residents. Its population schedules are core genealogical records, among the first you use to find your family. But there’s a lot more to the federal census than just population schedules.
Several US censuses included extra lists detailing certain populations. Depending on the year, you might learn details about the recently deceased, slaveholders and the enslaved, military veterans and their widows, farmers, manufacturers, Indians, the disabled, and those in institutions or prisons.
The chances of a given ancestor fitting one of these qualifications may seem small, but if you’re researching at least one US line between 1810 and 1940, it’s worth looking for the unique information special schedules provide. They can enhance your knowledge of your relative’s economic well-being, occupation, health, military service and more. What you learn also may provide clues to point you to additional information in the records of cemeteries, prisons, county homes, hospitals and the military.
Though not all schedules survive, many that did are available online. Some were distributed back to individual states or to any archive that would take them, making them more difficult to locate. This guide will familiarize you with special censuses, the information they contain and how to find them.
For decennial censuses from 1850 to 1900, enumerators logged deaths that occurred in the year preceding the census date of June 1. Some deaths outside that time frame were reported, too. The resulting mortality schedules survive for some portion of at least 75 percent of states for 1850 to 1880, as well as the 1885 state/territorial censuses. While mortality schedules didn’t capture every death, they still represent a strong nationwide cross-section in the days before death records were generally created.
Record content: Mortality schedules requested the deceased person’s name, gender, age, color, widow(er) status, birthplace, death month, occupation, cause of death and length of illness. In 1850 and 1860, this may include enslaved African-Americans, who otherwise don’t typically appear in censuses. In 1870, parents’ birthplaces were added. The 1880 schedule also noted where a disease was contracted and length of residence at that place.
1850 Mortality Schedule (click the small image to see a larger one in a new browser window)
1. Indented first names with ditto marks indicate this person has the same surname as the person listed above. Deaths were listed in household order, so these individuals are likely from the same family.
2. Note the deceased’s age at death, gender, race, free or slave status, married or widow status and birthplace.
3. The 1850 population schedule doesn’t name enslaved individuals, but they’re named here in the mortality schedule. Only thee slaves’ first names are shown; they didn’t have legal surnames.
4. The deceased’s month of death, cause of death and number of days ill are listed.
5. Alexander Hall died from a sudden accident. His is the only occupation noted on the page; perhaps he was a well-known businessman. For these reasons, look for a report of his death in local newspapers.
Citation for this record: Citation for this record: Virginia, Augusta County, 1850 US census mortality schedule. “U.S. Federal Census Mortality Schedules, 1850-1885,” digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 11 August 2015).
American Indians were generally excluded from the US federal census before 1860, and in 1860 and 1870, enumerated only when they didn’t live on a reservation. The 1890 census enumerated all Indians on the population schedules, but most of these are lost, except for the Cherokee Nation population schedule. But in some years, enumerators gathered additional information on them in special schedules.
Record content: In 1880, a Special Census of Indians was taken in unsettled areas and on reservations in California and the territories of Washington and Dakota. A two-page form for each family lists the tribe, reservation and household members with Indian and English names, age, gender, relationships, marital and tribal status, language(s) spoken and work, health, literacy and property ownership.
Beginning in 1900, censuses counted Indians regardless of where they lived. In 1900 and 1910, special Indian schedules noted tribal affiliation (for self and parents), mixed blood percentage, whether polygamous, US citizenship status, and whether living in a movable or permanent home.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs conducted annual censuses, though spotty, from 1885 to 1940. While not taken concurrently with population censuses, the annual Indian census rolls are similar in content to other special schedules. Data may include English and Indian names, age, birth date, gender and relationship to head of household. After 1930, the rolls also give the degree of Indian blood, marital status and more.
Access: Search the 1880 Special Census of Indians on Ancestry.com. Originals are at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).
The surviving Cherokee Nation (Indian Territory) population schedule is published in The 1890 Cherokee Nation Census Indian Territory (Oklahoma) by Barbara L. Benge (Heritage Books). Look for special Indian schedules in the 1900 and 1910 US censuses at the end of the county’s population schedules, or grouped together at the end of the state’s population schedules. You’ll need to browse in online collections. If you don’t find them, check the same places on microfilmed censuses at major research libraries.
The early United States was a land of farmers. Starting with the 1840 census, the government assessed national production on agricultural schedules: which crops and livestock were being raised, where and by whom. Though some schedules were destroyed after statistics were compiled, agricultural schedules survive for 1850 to 1880 and an 1885 territorial census. They offer rich details on farmers’ livelihood during a time of dramatic change in the business of growing food.
Record content: Schedules for 1850 and 1860 list farmers and plantation owners who produced at least $100 in farm goods annually. In 1870 and 1880, they listed farmers who planted on at least three acres and/or produced $500 or more in farm goods. Landowners, tenant farmers and sharecroppers weren’t distinguished on the schedule until 1880.
Schedules in 1850, 1860 and 1870 list the owner/manager/agent, acreage (improved and unimproved), value of property and equipment, and the amount, value and description of livestock and produce. In 1880, you’ll learn statistics on the farm’s paid labor force. This makes schedules of interest to descendants of those who ran farms and those who worked on them, if you know for whom your ancestor worked.
Access: Ancestry.com and HeritageQuest Online have some indexed images of agricultural schedules. If your ancestor’s locale isn’t included in these sites, try running a web search with the state, county, year and keywords census “agricultural schedule.” This might turn up originals at a state repository or university library. NARA also has some schedules on microfilm. If you end up browsing unindexed schedules, keep in mind they’re arranged by state, then county, then city or township.
Manufacturing and Industry Schedules
Seven censuses taken in the 1800s collected data on manufacturing or industrial firms that produced goods of a minimum value. Data—and what’s survived—vary by year.
Record content: In 1810, enumerators asked three simple questions about the nature, value and amount of goods, but most of these schedules were lost. In 1820, schedules added the business location, capital invested, machinery used and number of employees.
In 1850, 1860 and 1870, businesses with greater than $500 in annual production were listed on industry schedules. The same questions were asked each year: name of business and business owner; amount, kind and value of products; capital invested; nature of raw materials, facilities and machinery; average number of male and female employees and their wages. (Look up the schedule entry for an ancestor’s employer, if you know who it was.)
The 1880 manufacturing schedule asked similar questions about raw materials, labor, machinery and products for industries like mining, mills, brick and lumber production, food processing plants, textile producers, iron and steel, shipbuilding and fisheries. There’s also industrial data in the 1885 state/territorial censuses for the states of Florida, Nebraska and Colorado, and the territories of New Mexico and Dakota (not every state participated in this census).
Access: Surviving data for the 1810 agricultural census is included with the 1810 population schedules. You can browse for these in federal census records on websites such as Ancestry.com or FamilySearch.org, or on microfilm.
Original schedules for 1820 are on NARA microfilm series M279. Some schedules for 1850 to 1880 are on Ancestry.com and HeritageQuest Online. These may be in the same databases as the agricultural schedules noted above. The 1885 census records for all areas except Dakota Territory are on microfilm at NARA.
In 1850 and 1860, Southern states and Washington, D.C., submitted schedules of slaves; New Jersey did in 1850 as well. These schedules list slaveholders and information about each enslaved person. Though slaves aren’t named, they may be able to help you identify a family’s slaveholder.
Record content: Slaveholders are listed in the same order as on the population schedule. While population schedules don’t indicate who owns slaves, the 1860 census lists a person’s personal property value, which included slaves. A white person with a relatively high personal property value in 1860 may appear as a slaveholder in the slave schedule. The slave schedule may indicate whether multiple slaveholders or a trust was involved in “ownership.”
Unfortunately, nearly all the enslaved are described only by age, gender and color (black or “mulatto”) under the slaveholder’s name. Only rarely will you find more data about the enslaved, such as a name, occupation or physical or mental disability. Without additional research, it’s usually impossible to know whether a slave listed is really your ancestor.
Under each slaveholder’s name also appears a tally for the preceding year of manumitted (freed) slaves and fugitive slaves not yet recaptured. Again, you won’t know for sure if these figures include your enslaved ancestor without more research. See Family Tree Magazine’s slave research guide
for resources and strategies.
Some censuses identified members of the military, from the 1840s column for Revolutionary War pensioners to two columns in 1930 for veterans of wars and military expeditions. But in 1890, an entirely separate veterans schedule was created. The surviving portion makes a neat substitute for the lost 1890 population schedules.
Record content: Population schedules in 1890 identified Civil War veterans and their widows. Enumerators then transcribed their names onto veterans schedules. Only Union soldiers were supposed to be transcribed, but some Confederate veterans’ names were included. They were later crossed out, but may still be legible.
Pension records, unit rosters and other military records also were used to compile the 1890 veterans schedules. The government sent follow up correspondence to veterans and took out newspaper ads requesting data, making the final veterans schedule even more complete. For each individual, you may find name, rank, company, regiment or vessel, enlistment and discharge dates, length of service, post office address, and a brief notation of any disability incurred.
The 1890 veterans schedule survives for states alphabetically from Louisiana through Wyoming, plus half of Kentucky, Oklahoma and Indian territories, and Washington, D.C. Search the schedules on Ancestry.com
, HeritageQuest Online and FamilySearch.org
. Libraries also may have the schedules on microfilm.
1890 Veterans Schedule (click on the small image to open a larger one in a new browser window)
1. The home and family number refers to the 1890 population schedule, which mostly doesn’t exist. The number still may be useful: Line 18 lists veteran Henry L. Pilchard. The next line is likely his wife, as she has the same home and family number, and surname. She’s listed as the former widow of another soldier, so she remarried to Henry Pilchard.
2. This census was taken 25 years after the Civil War ended. Rank, company, regiment or vessel, dates of enlistment and discharge and length of service may be imprecise or missing.
3. The line number from the top half of the page is repeated here, with the person’s post office address, service-related disabilities and additional remarks.
Citation for this record: West Virginia, Kanawha County, 1890 US census veterans schedule. “1890 Veterans Schedules,“ digital images, HeritageQuestOnline.com (http://www.heritagequestonline.com: accessed 11 August 2015).
Defective, dependent and delinquent schedules
As part of the 1880 census, the federal government counted ailing, institutionalized and welfare-receiving US residents in the population census. If you see an ancestor with a positive answer in these columns (columns 15-20) and/or who was in a prison, poorhouse or other facility, search for him or her in a separate schedule of “defective, dependent and delinquent” classes (often called DDD schedules).
Record content: This schedule was meant to help the nation assess the needs of its most vulnerable. Census-takers collected data on seven separate forms. In addition to names, places of usual residence and (if applicable) institutionalization, each schedule contained the following information:
- Schedule 2 for the “insane”: whether someone was or had been institutionalized, the nature and duration of the illness, whether restraints were needed and whether the person was epileptic, suicidal or homicidal
- Schedules 3, 4 and 5 for “idiots” (those with severe mental deficiency since childhood), “deaf-mutes” and the blind: comparable data to the above, plus causes of these conditions
- Schedule 6 for homeless children in institutions: whether parents were deceased, guardianship status of living parents, legitimacy of the child’s birth, “respectability” of the child’s background, the child’s criminal history, and whether blind, “deaf-mute” or an “idiot”
- Schedule 7 for the incarcerated: status of a person’s term (such as awaiting a trial or serving out a fine), reason and length of stay, and the nature of any hard labor
- Schedule 7a for the poor receiving public aid: who was paying for the person’s care; details about health, disability, sobriety and criminal background; and which (if any) family members were with the person in the institution
Because families weren’t trusted to report all qualifying relatives, enumerators were supposed to ask around town about who fit the bill for DDD data. Overseers and wardens were consulted on behalf of the institutionalized.
More than 325,000 DDD records for 21 of the then-38 states are on Ancestry.com
. Some of these schedules may be in a state archive or library, with many microfilmed copies at NARA. Find the locations of surviving schedules
in Family Tree Magazine
’s free download.
Social Statistics Schedules
Community organizations and resources were described in the social statistics schedules of the 1850, 1860 and 1870 censuses. While they don’t name individuals, you may find them useful for discovering details about your ancestors’ towns.
Record content: You’ll find details about churches, cemeteries, social clubs, schools, newspapers and more. Use these lists to look for records that may name your kin.
Most of these schedules survive. They’re available at NARA and sometimes at regional and state archives. Many are available for browsing on Ancestry.com
. Under Browse This Collection, choose the State and Schedule Type, Social Statistics, (if available).
- Available Schedules: agricultural schedules (1850-1885); defective, dependent and delinquent schedule (1880); Indian schedules (1880, 1900-1940); industrial and manufacturing schedules (1810, 1820, 1850-1880); mortality schedules (1850-1885); slave schedules (1850 and 1860); social statistics schedules (1850-1870); Civil War veterans schedules (1890), Revolutionary war pensioner census (1840)
- Jurisdiction Where Kept: primarily at National Archives, with a few at state, regional, private or university archives
- Online Search Terms: [name of schedule] + US census + year + place
- Find in the FamilySearch Catalog: Search by Place, and then select a Census option from the list of results to see whether a nonpopulation schedule exists for that place and year.
- Alternate and substitute records: varies depending on type of schedule
Publications and Resources
- The 1890 Cherokee Nation Census Indian Territory (Oklahoma) by Barbara L. Benge (Heritage Books)
- The Census Book: A Genealogist’s Guide to Federal Census Facts, Schedules and Indexes by William Dollarhide (Heritage Books)
- Finding Answers in U.S. Census Records by Loretto Dennis Szucs and Matthew Wright (Ancestry Publishing)
- Indexes to Manufacturers’ Census of 1820: An Edited Printing of the Original Indexes and Information
- compiled by the National Archives (Bookmark)
- Your Guide to the Federal Census for Genealogists, Researchers and Family Historians by Kathleen W. Hinckley (Betterway Books)
Put It Into Practice Quiz
1. Which of the following groups were not listed in special census schedules?
a. Those who died the year preceding the census
b. Immigrants not yet naturalized
c. Civil War veterans and their widows
d. Native Americans living on reservations
2. Name at least three classes of people included in the
1880 DDD schedule.
3. To be included in a mortality schedule, when did the
a. During the year the federal population census was taken
b. The year prior to the federal population census being taken
c. Both a and b
d. None of the above
Exercise A: At Ancestry.com or on HeritageQuest Online, search in the Selected US Federal Census Non-Population Schedules, 1850-1880 collection for Abraham Johnson (indexed as “Abrahan”). Find him in the 1880 Agricultural Schedule for Hart County, Ga., District 1115, on line 8. Read that row and the continuing row for line 8 in the section below it.
1. Is Abraham a farm owner, renter or sharecropper (from columns 2-4) and how many acres did Abraham have under cultivation (column 5)?
2. What was the estimated value of his 1879 farm production (column 17)?
3. From the second row of data, how many milk cows (column 26), swine (column 46) and barnyard poultry (column 47) did he have?
4. Write a citation for this record.
Exercise B: Choose a family line. Using the Worksheet, choose an ancestor to look for in special census schedules. Make notes on what you find and then add the results to your family tree database.
1. b. 2. Any 3 of these answers: the insane, idiots, deaf-mutes, blind, homeless children in institutions, prisoners, and the poor who were living on public expense. 3. b. Exercise A 1. Abraham was a sharecropper with 20 acres under cultivation 2. $300 3. 2 milk cows, 10 swine and 14 barnyard poultry. 4. Georgia, Hart County, 1880 US census agriculture schedule. “Selected U.S. Federal Census Non-Population Schedules, 1850-1880,” digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 12 August 2015).
Tip: Look for every family member in every available special census. Most local lists are quite short and are easy to browse.
From the December 2015 Family Tree Magazine