Using The Federal Census
The population schedules of the U.S. federal census are perhaps the single most-important record used to document family history. The census is one of the first records genealogists consult, because the data it contains enables researchers to gather information about individuals and to reconstruct family units, entire neighborhoods, and even towns. Census schedules can help solve many genealogical problems.
The first U.S. census was taken in 1790 to count the population and determine representation in Congress, and it has been taken every ten years since 1790. Federal privacy laws restrict census records from public use for seventy-two years in order to protect the privacy of the living. Consequently, the census of 1930 is the most-recent census available for research.
Early census schedules listed heads of families and listed other individuals within age categories by sex. The most significant change in the census came in 1850, when focus was shifted to the individual as the primary census unit. One line of the census was used to record information on each person. A mortality schedule also was added in 1850, which collected information on deaths that occurred during the twelve months prior to the census day.
Other useful census records include: slave schedule (1850 and 1860); agricultural schedule (1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, and 1930); and defective, dependent, and delinquent schedule (1880). The latter lists persons who were insane, blind, deaf, homeless, or generally dependent on the government for services.
Federal population schedules that are available for research (1790-1930) are available on microfilm at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in Washington, D.C., and at the eleven regional facilities, including the Southeast Region branch just south of the Atlanta, Georgia, city limits. Federal population schedules for Georgia for the years 1820-1880 and 1900-1920 also are available on microfilm at the Georgia Archives, as are portions of census records for some other states. Many public libraries have purchased microfilm copies of the federal census for the county or counties they serve. For detailed listing of NARA microfilm available on the federal population schedules, please see the NARA website at: http://www.archives.gov. Census images have been scanned from microfilm rolls and appear on the Internet in subscription databases available at such websites as Genealogy.com and Ancestry.com.
- 1790-1810: The first three census schedules for Georgia are missing. A total of seventeen volumes of 1790-1820 censuses were lost by the federal government, evidently before 1895, and the cause is unknown. Tax lists for various years for a few of the counties have been published in Some Early Tax Digests of Georgia, ed. by Ruth Blair, 2 vols. (Atlanta: Georgia Archives, 1926), and An Index to Georgia Tax Digests, 1789-1817. (Published for the R. J. Taylor Jr. Foundation; Spartanburg, SC: Reprint Co., 1986). These can be used as a substitution for the first three census schedules. Additionally, there is Substitute for Georgia's Lost 1790 Census (Albany, Ga.: Delwyn Associates, 1975). Wills, deeds, tax digests, court minutes, voter lists, and newspapers were searched to compile this list.
- 1820: The 1820 schedules for Franklin, Rabun, and Twiggs Counties are missing. Population Schedules: NARA M33, Rolls 6-10. (Georgia Archives Microfilm #331/1-5); Manufacturing Schedules: (Georgia Archives #331/6)
- 1830: Population Schedules: NARA M19, Rolls 16-21. (Georgia Archives #331/7-12)
- 1840: Population Schedules: NARA M704, Rolls 37-53. (Georgia Archives #331/13-29); Schedules of Mines, Agriculture, Commerce, and Manufacturing (Georgia Archives #331/30-31)
- 1850: Population Schedules: NARA M432, Rolls 61-96. (Georgia Archives #331/32-58); Slave Schedules: (Georgia Archives #331/59-67); Agriculture Schedules: (Georgia Archives #331/68-70); Mortality Schedules: (Georgia Archives #331/71); Social Statistics: (Georgia Archives #331/72)
- 1860: Population Schedules: NARA M653, Rolls 111-153 (Georgia Archives #331/73-332/28); Slave Schedules: (Georgia Archives #332/29-40); Agriculture Schedules: (Georgia Archives #332/41-43); Mortality Schedules: (Georgia Archives #332/44); Social Statistics: (Georgia Archives #332/45)
- 1870: Population Schedules: NARA M593, Rolls 134-184 (Georgia Archives #332/46-333/22); Agriculture Schedules: (Georgia Archives #333/23-24); Mortality Schedules: (Georgia Archives #332/25)
- 1880: Population Schedules: NARA T9, Rolls 133-172; (Georgia Archives #333/28-67); Soundex index: T744, 86 rolls (Georgia Archives #333/68-334/74); 1880 Federal Census State Copy: (Georgia Archives #333/27); Agriculture Schedules: (Georgia Archives #334/75-85); Defectives, Dependents, and Delinquents Schedules: (Georgia Archives #334/86-87); Manufacturing Schedules: (Georgia Archives #334/88-89); Mortality Schedules: (Georgia Archives #334/90-95); Abstract and Index to Mortality Schedules: (Georgia Archives #334/96-97)
- 1890: The original 1890 population schedules were destroyed as the result of a fire in Washington in 1921. Less than one percent of the schedules are extant. They are microfilmed on M407, 3 rolls. Georgia is located on Roll 3, and includes only Muscogee County (Columbus). (Georgia Archives #334/98) To read First in the Path of the Firemen: The Fate of the 1890 Population Census, please see the National Archives article in Prologue: Quarterly of the National Archives and Records Administration. Spring 1996. Vol. 28, No. 1
- 1900: Population Schedules: NARA T623, Rolls 178-230 (Georgia Archives #334/99-335/49); Soundex index: T1040, 214 rolls (Georgia Archives #335/50-337/39)
- 1910: Population Schedules: NARA T624, Rolls 170-220 (Georgia Archives #337/40-90); Soundex index: T1263, 174 rolls. (Georgia Archives #338/1-339/50)
- 1920: Population Schedules: NARA T625, Rolls 233-286 (Georgia Archives #326/7-60); Soundex index: M1557, 200 rolls (Georgia Archives #326/61-328/44)
- 1930: This census is not available at the Georgia Archives.
The 1790-1840 censuses give the name of the free heads of households only; other family members are a count of individuals by age and sex and are not named. The total number of slaves in a family is indicated in the population schedules, but they are identified by age category and sex in the slave schedules. The 1850 census lists the names, ages, sex, and complexion of every free person. The state, territory, or country of birth of each free person is also given along with other data. Succeeding censuses contain progressively more-detailed information. To gain better understanding of the different censuses and their content, study the charts that list the contents of various federal census schedule forms.
Census schedules are arranged geographically by state, county, and county subdivision (such as township, municipality, or militia district name or number).
Within each county subdivision the entry of each household is recorded in the order in which the census taker traveled.
Privately published, statewide census indexes are available for many states. Printed indexes for Georgia exist for the 1820-1870 censuses. It has been estimated that some printed indexes have a twenty percent error rate. Omissions and transcription errors may require a line-by-line search of the census for a particular locality.
Microfilmed indexes for the 1880 and 1900-1930 censuses for Georgia use the Soundex method, which is an index based upon the sound of a surname rather than how it is spelled. Grouping like-sounding names together helps with surnames that have variant spellings or which were misspelled in the census. The Soundex for 1900-1930 identifies all individuals enumerated. However, the 1910 census has a separate Soundex for major cities. The 1880 Soundex identifies only households containing children ten years old or younger.
Soundex Coding Guide
To use the Soundex, you first code the surname, following the instructions below. The Soundex indexes a surname by the way it sounds rather than by the spelling. It is important to consider all known spelling variations of the name. Only consonant sounds within the name are coded; vowels and consonants that act as vowels are disregarded. All Soundex codes consist of a letter and three numbers. The first letter of the surname is the letter part of the code and is not assigned a code number. To search for a surname, you must first work out its code.
Basic Soundex Coding Rule
Every Soundex Code
Every Soundex code consists of a letter and three numbers, such as W-252. The letter is always the first letter of the surname. The numbers are assigned to the remaining letters of the surname according to the Soundex guide shown below. Zeroes are added at the end if necessary to produce a four-character code. Additional letters are disregarded. Examples:
- Washington is coded W-252 (W, 2 for the S, 5 for the N, 2 for the G, remaining letters disregarded).
- Lee is coded L-000 (L, 000 added).
Soundex Coding Guide
Represents the Letters
B, F, P, V
C, G, J, K, Q, S, X, Z
Disregard the letters A, E, I, O, U, H, W, and Y.
Additional Soundex Coding Rules
- Names With Double Letters
If the surname has any double letters, they should be treated as one letter. For example:
Gutierrez is coded G-362 (G, 3 for the T, 6 for the first R, second R ignored, 2 for the Z).
- Names with Letters Side-by-Side that have the Same Soundex Code Number
If the surname has different letters side-by-side that have the same number in the Soundex coding guide, they should be treated as one letter. Examples:
Pfister is coded as P-236 (P, F ignored, 2 for the S, 3 for the T, 6 for the R).
Jackson is coded as J-250 (J, 2 for the C, K ignored, S ignored, 5 for the N, 0 added).
Tymczak is coded as T-522 (T, 5 for the M, 2 for the C, Z ignored, 2 for the K). Since the vowel "A" separates the Z and K, the K is coded.
- Names with Prefixes
If a surname has a prefix, such as Van, Con, De, Di, La, or Le, code both with and without the prefix because the surname might be listed under either code. Note, however, that Mc and Mac are not considered prefixes.
For example, VanDeusen might be coded two ways:
V-532 (V, 5 for N, 3 for D, 2 for S)
D-250 (D, 2 for the S, 5 for the N, 0 added).
- Consonant Separators
If a vowel (A, E, I, O, U) separates two consonants that have the same Soundex code, the consonant to the right of the vowel is coded. Example:
Tymczak is coded as T-522 (T, 5 for the M, 2 for the C, Z ignored (see "Side-by-Side" rule above), 2 for the K). Since the vowel "A" separates the Z and K, the K is coded.
If "H" or "W" separate two consonants that have the same Soundex code, the consonant to the right of the vowel is not coded. Example:
Ashcraft is coded A-261 (A, 2 for the S, C ignored, 6 for the R, 1 for the F). It is not coded A-226.
Transcribing Census Data
It is important to transcribe the information found in all the columns on a census and to copy it accurately. The data can lead to other record sources and even to other states! Forms for the systematic recording of census information are available from genealogical publishing houses, from several different websites, and from the Georgia Archives. Making a photocopy of the census page saves time and insures accuracy.
For Additional Information
- Eichholz, Alice, ed. Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources. 3rd ed. Provo, Utah: Ancestry, 2004. •Greenwood, Val D. The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy. 3rd ed. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2000.
- National Archives Trust Fund Board. Guide to Genealogical Research in the National Archives of the United States. Washington, D.C.: NARA, 2000.
- Szucs, Loretto Dennis. The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy. Rev. ed. Salt Lake City: Ancestry, 1997. •Thorndale, William, and William Dollarhide. Map Guide to the U.S. Federal Censuses, 1790-1920. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1987.
- •U.S. Dept. of Commerce, Bureau of the Census. Twenty Censuses: Population and Housing Questions, 1790-1980. Washington, D.C.: USDC, 1979.
- •U.S. Dept. of Commerce, Bureau of the Census. 200 Years of U.S. Census Taking: Population and Housing Questions, 1790-1990. Washington, D.C.: USDC, 1989; reprinted by Heritage Quest, Inc., 1992.
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