State and Local Censuses

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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
Topics

Population counts taken by state and local governments, though generally more difficult to find than the federal decennial censuses, can be very useful in family history research. In some cases, state and local census details will supplement information found in the federal counts; in others they may provide the only census information available for a given family or individual.

State Censuses

State censuses were often taken in years between the federal censuses. In some places, local censuses were designed to collect specific data, such as the financial strengths and needs of communities; tallies of school-age children and potential school populations to predict needs for teachers and facilities; censuses of military strength, cavalry horse resources, and grain storage; enumeration for revenue assessment and urban planning; and lists to monitor African Americans moving into northern cities.

As noted by Ann S. Lainhart in her comprehensive study State Census Records, tallies taken at the state level take on special importance for researchers attempting to fill in gaps left by missing censuses.31 For example, state and territorial censuses taken in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, and Wisconsin between 1885 and 1895 can partially compensate for the missing 1890 federal census schedules. Additionally, some remarkably detailed state censuses are available for recent years. The Florida State Archives, for example, has 1935 and 1945 state enumerations. Like most other state schedules, the Florida state manuscripts are not indexed; they are arranged alphabetically by county and then geographically by election precincts. As with research in most state censuses, users must obtain election precinct numbers to expedite a search.

Probably no other state enumeration surpasses the 1925 Iowa state census in terms of genealogical value. In that year, Iowa asked for the names of all its residents and their relationship to the head of that household; the place of their abode (including house number and street in cities and towns); their sex, color or race, age at last birthday, place of birth, and marital status. It also asked if they were foreign born, the year they were naturalized, the number of years they had been in the United States, and the number of years they had been in Iowa; their level of education; the names of their parents (including mother’s maiden name), as well as the places of their birth; their parents’ age, if living; and place of marriage of parents. There were nine specific questions relating to military service; nine questions regarding occupation; one about church affiliation; and six questions related to real estate, including the amount for which each listed property owner’s house was insured.

A useful indication of what the Family History Library has on state and other censuses is “U.S. State and Special Census Register: A Listing of Family History Library Microfilm Numbers.” It is an inventory, arranged by state and census year, describing the contents of each census and providing microfilm numbers for most known existing state censuses. The unpublished listing, compiled by G. Eileen Buckway and Fred Adams, was revised in 1992 and is available in the reference area of the Family History Library.32

On the facing page is a summary of state census schedules for the years 1623 to 1950 that includes the date, comments on them, and their current locations. (The notation “Ltd.” following the census year indicates that only a partial census of the state was completed or is available. A census date is only included for censuses where at least the name of the head of the household is listed. Territory censuses are also included where applicable. Special thanks to Ann S. Lainhart for her assistance in preparing this summary.) The vast wealth of data available in these local enumerations can take several forms.

Local Censuses

Local population schedules usually resemble those of corresponding federal enumerations, but those taken in New York and Boston during the colonial period included details later incorporated in federal censuses. Beginning as early as 1703, some cities required that a census be taken of their population. Although these city and town censuses are not as numerous as the federal population schedules, some may be worth the time it takes to find them.

Importance of Local Censuses

Local censuses can be useful in discovering the names of children who are listed in pre-1850 census schedules by age groupings only. Similarly, these censuses may be used to determine the number living in a household and compared with birth and death records. They may also verify specific residences of individuals who moved too rapidly to be recorded in other sources; and they may identify neighbors and other community members whose records can provide additional clues for tracing families and individuals back in time. Comparing local census schedules with tax records and other property sources is often one of the best ways to distinguish individuals of the same or similar names.

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