1820 U.S. Census

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The United States Federal Census

This article is part of a series.
Overview of the U.S. Census
Finding and Reading U.S. Census Records
1790 U.S. Census
1800 U.S. Census
1810 U.S. Census
1820 U.S. Census
1830 U.S. Census
1840 U.S. Census
1850 U.S. Census
1860 U.S. Census
1870 U.S. Census
1880 U.S. Census
1890 U.S. Census
1900 U.S. Census
1910 U.S. Census
1920 U.S. Census
1930 U.S. Census
1940 U.S. Census
Census Indexes and Finding Aids
Using the Soundex with Census Records
Non-Population Schedules and Special Censuses
State and Local Censuses
Census Substitutes
African American Census Schedules
Reconstructed 1790 Census Schedules
Censuses of Native Americans
List of Useful Census References
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This article originally appeared in "Census Records" by Loretto Dennis Szucs and Matthew Wright in The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy

The 1820 census began on 7 August 1820. The count was due within six months but was extended by law to allow completion within thirteen months. The official census population count was 9,638,453.

Contents

Questions Asked in the 1820 Census

The 1820 census called for the name of the family head; the number of free white males and females in age categories 0 to 10, 10 to 16, 16 to 18 (males only), 16 to 26, 26 to 45, 45 and older; the number of other free persons except Indians not taxed; the number of slaves; and the town or district and county of residence. Additionally, the 1820 census for the first time asked the number of free white males 16 to 18; the number of persons not naturalized; the number engaged in agriculture, commercial, or manufacture; the number of “colored” persons (sometimes in age categories); and the number of other persons except Indians.

Research Tips for the 1820 Census

The 1820 census records are useful for identifying localities to search for other types of records for a named individual. The 1820 census will, in most cases, help distinguish the target family from others of the same name; help to determine family size; locate possible relatives with the same name; identify immediate neighbors who may be related; identify slaveholders; and spot spelling variations of surnames. Free men “of color” are listed as heads of household by name. Slaves appear in age groupings by name of owner. By combining those age groupings with probate inventories and tax list date, it is sometimes possible to determine names of other family members and the birth order of those individuals.

The added questions in the 1820 census break down ages so that it is possible to gauge the age of young men more accurately. However, the redundancy of asking the number of free white males “Between 16 and 18,” and “Of 16 and under 26,” “Of 26 and under 45,” “Of 45 and upwards,” is frequently cause for confusion in attempts to calculate the total number of persons in a given household. The column regarding naturalization status may be some indication of length of residency in the United States and the possibility of finding naturalization papers in a local court.

The questions asked regarding number and nature of those involved in agriculture, commercial, or manufacturing enterprises allow researchers to make some distinctions about the occupation of the head and any others in the household who were employed. Some, though admittedly not much, identifying information is available where schedules go beyond stating the number of “colored” persons and provide an age breakdown as well. The 1820 manufacturing schedules are on twenty-nine separate rolls of microfilm.

For a state-by-state listing of census schedules, see The 1790–1840 Federal Population Censuses. For boundary changes and identification of missing census schedules, see Thorndale’s and Dollarhide’s Map Guide to the U.S. Federal Censuses, 1790–1920.

This chart, originally published in The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy, shows what questions were asked in each census.


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