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
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
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 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:
Soundex Coding Rules
Names With Double Letters
If the surname has any double letters, they should be treated as one letter. For example:
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:
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.
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).
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
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