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Understanding US census documents


Image above: Census taking at the Standing Rock Agency in South Dakota, 1880-1890. Just look at the two tables set in the middle, these census taking officers would have noted down all the information from the families living in that said area. It used to be announced by word of mouth or in church that all the town´s people had to gather and in order to be counted for census purposes..


The U.S. government has conducted censuses every 10 years since 1790, with the exception of the 1890 census, which was destroyed in a fire.


See below an example of 1790 United States Federal Census, North Carolina, Edgecombe **


Most of the census records have survived, although a few fragments from some years have been lost. The 1940 census is the most recent one available to the public.

Census details vary depending on the year, with more recent censuses typically offering more information.


Censuses since 1880 are particularly useful for genealogical research, as they provide valuable details such as names, relationships, approximate birth years, marital status, birthplaces, and parents’ birthplaces.


Below an example of 1910 census**


Additionally, some censuses offer information on immigration and naturalization, homeownership, literacy, education, childbearing history, neighborhood composition, and other details that can help to reconstruct family histories.


* Information shown on the census document:

Name: Josiah Askew

Home in 1820 (City, County, State): Lenoir, North Carolina

Enumeration Date: August 7, 1820

Free White Persons - Males - 26 thru 44: 1

Number of Persons - Engaged in Manufactures: 1

Free White Persons - Over 25: 1

Total Free White Persons: 1

Total All Persons - White, Slaves, Colored, Other: 1


** Information shown on the census document:

Name: Edward W Rauscher

Age in 191049

Birth Date1861

Birthplace: Pennsylvania

Home in 1910: Erin, Houston, Tennessee, USA

Street: Waluat Store

Race: White

Gender: Male

Relation to Head of House: Head

Marital Status: Married

Spouse's Name: Minnie L Rauscher

Father's Birthplace: Germany

Mother's Birthplace: Pennsylvania

Native Tongue: English

Occupation: Merchant

Industry: Manufacture

Employer, Employee or Other: Employer

Home Owned or Rented: Own

Home Free or Mortgaged: Free

Farm or House: Farm

Able to read: Yes

Able to Write: Yes

Years Married: 27

Neighbors: View others on page

Household members: Edward W Rauscher, 49, Minnie L Rauscher, 47, Luther E Mckinnon, 23, Lena Mckinnon, 21, Lonnie Bobbins, 21, Grace Rauscher, 15, Edward W Rauscher Jr, 11


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