Census Records for Rhode Island
This entry was originally written by Alice Eichholz, Ph.D., CG for Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.
• Indexed—1790, 1800, 1810, 1820, 1830, 1840, 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930
• Soundex—1880, 1900, 1920
Industry and Agriculture Schedules
• 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880
• 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880
Union Veterans Schedules
Before obtaining statehood, Rhode Island took several censuses for a variety of purposes. These are supplemented by the freemen’s lists indicating all those admitted to free status between 1747 and 1755. The originals and a card index are at the Rhode Island State Archives, but they have been published in Bruce C. MacGunnigle, Rhode Island Freemen, 1747–1755 (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1977).
Some censuses were ordered as early as 1706, but the earliest extant census is for 1730, although only Portsmouth and part of South Kingston returns have been located. African Americans and whites are enumerated and identified as such in the lists transcribed by Mildred Mosher Chamberlain and published in Rhode Island Roots 7 (1981): 16-17 and 10 (1984): 1.
The 1774 census has survived for nearly all towns and has been indexed and published. Only New Shoreham (Block Island) is missing. Since this is a pre-Revolutionary War list, its value is in locating these families before the decline in population and the economic and political changes caused by the war. Original returns are at Rhode Island State Archives, but their publication makes them more accessible. See John R. Bartlett, Census of the Inhabitants of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations (1858; reprint, Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1969).
A military census falls chronologically between the 1774 and 1782 census (see Military Records). The last census before the federal censuses begin can be found indexed in Jay Mack Holbrook’s, Rhode Island 1782 Census (Oxford, Mass.: Holbrook Research Institute, 1979). Since returns for some of the towns were lost, this is a reconstructed census using original manuscripts and tax lists to replace those lost records. Returns for North Providence and Smithfield are not extant. There is a breakdown by age, sex, and race in the original manuscript, but Holbrook covers whites only (see also Rhode Island Military Records).
Rhode Island is the only New England state with extensive state census records taken every ten years between 1865 and 1935 (1895 is missing). Similar to the federal census, the Rhode Island State Archives has microfilm copies of all the state censuses with an every-name index to the 1865 state census and indexes to the 1875 and 1885 censuses. Microfilm copies of the 1865, 1875, and 1885 censuses are also at the Rhode Island Historical Society. See Maureen Taylor, “Rhode Island Local and State Censuses,” available by membership subscription at New England Historic Genealogical Society.