Information about Census Records:

Contributed by Tina Stemen


In 1790 George Washington signed into law an act which provides for the "enumeration of inhabitants." The census was originally designed as a simple counting of people (which did not include slaves or untaxed Native Americans). Its goal was to provide information on men eligible for military service.

The U.S. Federal census is taken every 10 years in years ending in zero. States also took census enumerations in years between the Federal censuses. These censuses were often taken for tax purposes.

Who were the census takers?
They were just folks like you and I doing a job to make ends meet. They were required to know how to read and write and they usually lived in the area they enumerated. In the early days the census taker needed a horse. It was a job. Some were conscientious and hard workers, striving for accuracy and legibility; some were just interested in getting a little government money.

There are obvious problems. The census taker did not consult any records, sometimes they did not even talk to the people in the household. They recorded information from personal knowledge, talked to neighbors, small children and visiting relatives. These methods result in huge variations in responses over a 10 year period. The foreign accents of recent immigrants played havoc with even phonetic spelling of surnames. Copies of the census records were copied. Not always by the enumerator. Often he would recruit his wife or older children to help with the copying.

On the older "fence post" tallies, the person listed as head of household may not have been the oldest person living there. That person may have been a parent or even a grandparent. People listed in any age group may not have been family members. They could be servants, visitors or boarders.

On later census listings sometimes the adult children could not even agree on the birthplace of the parents. Sometimes deceased individuals are listed on the census. The census was planned to be taken on a certain date each year. This was not reasonable considering the terrain and modes of transportation, so they tried to record information that was correct on the census date. This results in discrepancies in the ages of children and in the listing of recently deceased individuals who were living on the actual census date.

1790 Census:
This census was taken because it was mandated by the constitution and signed into law by President George Washington. It was to be a simple enumeration of "inhabitants." The population of the United States in 1790 turned out to be a little over 3 million not including slaves or untaxed Native Americans. The Revolutionary War was not far behind us and one of the purposes for the census was to determine the number of men eligible for military service.

The information included in the 1790 census was name of head of household, number of free white males 16 years and upwards, number of free white males under 16, number of free white females, number of all other free persons, number of slaves, county and sometimes town or district of residence.

Much of the 1790 census was destroyed in the War of 1812, some states totally, some states partially. Sometimes tax lists are available to help find the names of early residents.

Tennessee - There are no 1790 schedules for Tennessee, Washington and Metro Districts were enumerated in 1791 by direction of the territorial governor. Tennessee became a state in 1796.

1800 Census:
The most of the 1800 census is in existence. When a woman is listed as head of household on the 1790 - 1840 census reports, she is usually a widow or the eldest daughter of deceased parents. She may also be living in a household where the male adult is elderly or infirm.

Information given on the 1800 census includes: name of head of household; number of free white males and females in these age categories: 0-10, 10-16, 16-26, 26-45, 45 and upwards; number of other free persons except Native Americans not taxed; number of slaves; town (or district) and county of residence.

Tennessee - Schedules are missing for all counties. Pollyanna Creekmore's Early East Tennessee Tax Lists may be used as a substitute when searching for residents.

1810 Census:
The third census of the United States is largely intact and lists the same information as the 1800 census schedules.

Tennessee - All schedules missing except Rutherford and parts of Grainger County.

1820 Census:
The 1820 census adds additional information. It includes name of head of household; number of free white males and females in these age categories: 0-10, 10-16, 16-26, 26-45, 45 and upwards; number of other free persons except Native Americans not taxed; number of slaves; town (or district) and county of residence.

Information added to this census is a category for free white males 16-18; number of persons not naturalized; number engaged in agriculture, commercial or manufacture; number of colored persons (sometimes in age categories); number of other persons, except Native Americans.

Tennessee - Schedules missing for all counties of the marshal's district of East Tennessee: Anderson, Bledsoe, Blount, Campbell, Carter, Claiborne, Cocke, Grainger, Greene, Hamilton, Hawkins, Jefferson, Knox, McMinn, Marion, Monroe, Morgan Rhea, Sevier, Sullivan and Washington.

1830 Census:
The 1830 census added more age categories and some new information for researchers.

Included beginning in 1830 are: name of head of household; number of free white males and females in age categories: 0-5, 5-10, 10-15, 15-20, 20-30, 30-40, 40-50, 50-60, 60-70, 70-80, 80-90, 90-100, over 100; number of slaves and free colored persons in age categories, categories for deaf, dumb, and blind persons and aliens; town (or district) and county of residence.

Tennessee - The 1830 schedules are intact!

1840 Census:
The 1840 census contains the same information as the 1830: name of head of household; number of free white males and females in age categories: 0-5, 5-10, 10-15, 15-20, 20-30, 30-40, 40-50, 50-60, 60-70, 70-80, 80-90, 90-100, over 100; number of slaves and free colored persons in age categories, categories for deaf, dumb, and blind persons and aliens; town (or district) and county of residence.

This census adds to the above: Revolutionary War pensioners and their ages; number engaged in mining, agriculture, commerce, manufacturing and trade, navigation of the ocean, navigation of canals, lakes and rivers, learned professions and engineers; number in schools; number in family over 21 who cannot read and write; number of insane.

Tennessee - The 1840 schedules are intact!

1850 Census:
The 1850 census assigns each dwelling a number and each family a number within the town or township in the specified county. This little detail alone will sometimes help put family groups together. But there is more, much more. The 1850 census also includes the name, age, sex, and color of each member of the household. Other information included is: occupation; value of real estate; birthplace; whether married or attended school within the year; check marks for cannot read or write and whether a pauper or convict.

Tennessee - Schedules for all counties exist!

1860 Census:
The 1860 Census lists a dwelling number and family number and each sheet lists the county as well as town and post office name. Questions answered on the 1860 census include, name, age and sex of each individual; color, occupation, value of real and personal property; birthplace, whether married within the year (m.y.), whether attended school, can read or write and the date of the enumeration.

1870 Census:
The 1870 Census lists a dwelling number and family number and each sheet lists the county as well as town and post office name. Questions answered on the 1870 census include, name, age and sex of each individual; color, occupation, value of real and personal property; birthplace, whether married within the year (m.y.), whether attended school, can read or write; whether a pauper or a convict, and the date of the enumeration.

New information on the 1870 census include whether father and mother were foreign born, the month of birth for babies born during the census year, the month married during the census year, and whether the individual was eligible to vote.

1880 Census:
All dwellings in each census district were given a number. Each family was also assigned an identification number. Each census sheet listed the county as well as town and the enumeration date. Name, sex, color are listed as well as age prior to June 1st; month of birth in the census year; whether single, married, widowed or divorced; whether married in the census year; occupation, cannot read or write; place of birth AND father's and mother's place of birth.

The major addition to the 1880 census for researchers is the listing of each individualís relationship to the head of household. The 1880 census is truly a fount of information for the genealogist.

1890 Census:
The 1890 Federal census is said to have been totally destroyed by fire, although rumors circulate frequently about bits and pieces existing in various archives. Use tax lists and other local information in your area of interest.

1900 Census:
The 1900 census schedules included dwelling and family numbers, county, town, street and house number, whether the home was owned or rented, whether free of mortgage, and whether the dwelling was a farm or house.

The name, color, sex, month and year of birth, age, place of birth and relationship to the head of household are listed for each person who lived in the dwelling on June 1, 1900. Also requested are marital status, number of years married, how many children born to the mother, number of these children still living; mother and father's place of birth, year of immigration to the U.S., naturalization; occupation, number of months employed; whether attended school, can read, can write, can speak English.

1910 Census:
The 1910 census schedules included dwelling and family numbers, county, town, street and house number, whether the home was owned or rented, whether free of mortgage, and whether the dwelling was a farm or house.

The name, race, sex, month and year of birth, age, place of birth and relationship to the head of household are listed for each person who lived in the dwelling on April 15, 1910. Also requested are marital status, number of years married, how many children born to the mother, number of these children still living; mother and father's place of birth, year of immigration to the U.S., naturalized or alien; occupation, nature of trade, employer, worker or own account, number of months not employed; whether attended school, can read and write, and language spoken; whether blind or deaf mute.

Of special interest to the family researcher, this census asks if an individual is a veteran of the Civil War.

1920 Census:
The 1920 Federal Census actually asks fewer questions than the 1910. A number is assigned to all dwellings and families. The county and town are given, as well as street, house number and family visit number.

Personal information is listed for each individual who resided in each abode on January 1, 1920. Questions include: name, sex, color or race, age, place of birth, marital status, relationship to head of household; occupation, whether employer, salary worker or working on own account; year of immigration to U.S., naturalized or alien, and year of naturalization; place of birth of mother and father.

Questions about language are asked: mother tongue of individual and his parents; whether can speak English

1930 Census:
The following questions were asked by enumerators for all states and territories excepting Alaska: Name of street, avenue road, etc.; house number; number of dwelling in order of visitation; number of family in order of visitation; name of each person whose place of abode was with the family; relationship of person enumerated to the head of the family; whether home owned or rented; value of home if owned; if rented, monthly rental; whether family owned a radio set; whether family owned a farm; sex; color or race; age at last birthday; whether single, married, widowed, or divorced; age at first marriage; whether attended school or college any time since 1 September 1929; whether able to read or write; person's place of birth; father's place of birth; mother's place of birth; language spoken in home before immigration; year of immigration to United States; whether naturalized or alien; whether able to speak English; trade, profession, or particular kind of work done; industry, business, or establishment in which at work; whether employer, salary or wage worker, or working on own account; whether actually at work the previous work day; if not, line number on unemployment schedule (which no longer exist); whether veteran of U.S. military or naval forces, if yes, which war or expedition; number on farm schedule.

The 1930 census did not have questions specifically regarding Civil War military service, number of children, or duration of marriage. It did, however, include several new question columns: whether the family owned a radio, the age at which a person was first married, and three columns regarding veteran status.

The microfilm images may have defects that affect legibility. The original schedules have been destroyed.

1940 Census:

Microfilming of the 1940 census cannot begin until after 72 years has elapsed and microfilming can take 2 years or more. It probably wonít be available until 2014.