The United States Federal censuses from 1790 through 1940 are some of the most valuable records that genealogists use. They enable researchers to track families in numerous ways, including:
- Migration patterns (or lack thereof)
- Size (as they increase or decrease) as children are born, grow up and move out to form their own households
- Social and economic factors (professions, trades and real estate)
State (or territorial) censuses generally fulfilled the same purpose as the federal census. They counted people, either for tax purposes or for allocation of local funding, etc. While Federal census data was collected during the years ending with “0,” a state census might have been done during the years ending with “5” or a different number.
By examining the state censuses provided by the U.S. census bureau, you might reach a different conclusion altogether. Of the fifty states and the District of Columbia, only nine states refrained from conducting a state census or special enumeration at some point in their history. Mississippi, Iowa, Oregon and Washington top the list with over a dozen different state conducted censuses.
All state censuses were not created equally. For example, both Massachusetts and Illinois administered a census in 1855. The Massachusetts census is similar to the 1850 federal census. Each member of the household is enumerated by name, age, sex, occupation, and birthplace. In Illinois, however, the state census is similar to the 1840 federal census (or earlier). Only the head of household is enumerated and family members are noted by tick marks.
While some censuses are available online, others are not. Take New Jersey, for example. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, New Jersey conducted state censuses every ten years, starting in 1855 until 1915. Ancestry’s catalog shows only one New Jersey state census for 1895. This database contains the digital images of the census. Family Search has three indexes available: 1885, 1905, and 1915. Unfortunately, none of the images are online. They are accessible on microfilm for the years 1855, 1865, 1885, 1895, 1905 and 1915. The 1875 census is not available through Family Search. The only repository with the complete collection of New Jersey state censuses is the New Jersey State Archives in Trenton.
Between the availability of state censuses online and those that can be ordered on microfilm from Salt Lake City, most people have a good chance of finding at least some of the state census records they need. However, it is simply not possible to view every state census in this manner. You can start planning your next genealogy road trip now or you can contact Genealogists.com. Our researchers can find and access the state census records that you need in the numerous archives located around the world.
Deborah Sweeney is a genealogist, blogger and author of the books Dear Mother, Love Daddy and Alfred M. Dicks of Crawford County, Illinois. She is currently working on a multiyear project to transcribe and publish the World War II letters written by her grandparents You can find Deborah online at www.genealogylady.net.
By Deborah Sweeney, who is a genealogist, blogger, and author of several books. She is currently working on a multi-year project to transcribe and publish the World War II letters written by her grandparents. You can find Deborah online at www.genealogylady.net, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.
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