Eastern State Census Records
by Luana Darby, BA
Census records are the cornerstone of 19th and early 20th century genealogical research. State censuses can enhance that research and census records of a few states, specifically New Jersey and New York, provide considerably more detail than the federal censuses. Usually taken in the years between federal census enumerations, these records provide an expanded view of the people in a specific area. In some cases, state and local censuses supplement information found in the federal counts; in others they may provide the only census information including family relations, birth dates and places to be found for a given individual or family.
Historically, census records were a basic count of inhabitants. As the nation grew, so did the need for statistics that would reflect the characteristics of the people. In 1787, the constitution called for an enumeration of the people to be made within three years after the first meeting of Congress. Then Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson sent a copy of the law to each of the seventeen U.S. Marshalls and instructed them to appoint as many assistants as were needed to take the census. From 1790 to 1880, census districts were aligned with existing civil divisions. The Marshalls were authorized to subdivide each district into reasonable geographical segments. Most census enumerations until well in the 1800s were taken by tax assessors.
State censuses, when they exist, were usually provided for in state constitutions and were typically designed for the allotment of representatives to state legislatures. These censuses were often taken in the years between federal censuses. They were also designed to collect specific data such as:
- Financial strengths and needs of the community for revenue assessment
- Number of school age children and potential school population to predict needs for teacher’s and facilities
- The number of able bodied males to assess military strength
- Centers of population for urban planning
State censuses usually resemble those of corresponding federal enumerations. Generally a name, place of birth and age are included (except for early census records). Each census varies between years and between states. State Census Records by Ann Lainhart gives a list of information asked by each specific census. In New York, Laura LeBarron, an assistant librarian at the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society, also describes what is available for that state in Contents of the New York State Census. A state census may ask different questions than the federal census. Many times questions are more detailed. For example, a few of the questions asked on census enumerations were:
- The 1865 Massachusetts state census asked if males were legal voters or naturalized voters. This important information helps to narrow the search for a naturalization date.
- The 1855, 1865 and 1875 New York state censuses list county of birth for those born in New York
- The 1865 Rhode Island census lists the town of birth for those born in that state
Occasionally on state census records, the enumerator would add special comments. A few of the more humorous ones are included here to illustrate this point:
- From an 1865 New York Census for Granville, Washington County. “These 11 live in a little shanty 12 by 12 only one room, how they sleep is a puzzle to me. I think they can’t all get in at once.”
- In the 1865 census of Hanson, Massachusetts it is noted that, “Hannah Barker was the oldest person in town, retaining all her mental faculties; Eyesight good.” (State Census Records by Ann Lainhart, p 11-12)
Value of the State Census
- Supplements information found in the federal census
- May provide the only information to be found for a given family or individual
- May fill in gaps left by missing federal censuses (i.e. 1890 Federal Census)
- Sometimes contains considerably more information about a family
- May not be closed to the public for 72 years as is the federal census
Access and Availability
The availability of state census records varies in each of the Mid-Atlantic states. The Family History Library in Salt Lake has an excellent collection of colonial, territorial and state censuses. Many original census records are available at state archives. Usually they are not indexed. However, state genealogical and historical societies may have created indexes to these records. A brief state by state listing follows to give an idea of what records are available for this region.
- In 1782, a partial census was taken by the tax assessor. This census listed only the names of the head of the household and the counts of all males over 18 years old and all females.
- There were no census enumerations after Delaware achieved statehood.
- In 1776, a census was compiled using the oaths of allegiance ordered by the colonial government of Maryland – some enumerations listed males in the household in descending order followed by females in the same order – it has been published twice.
- In 1778, a tally of those who were opposed to the American Revolution can also be used as a census. Many of those that were included in this enumeration were Mennonites and Quaker for their religious belief of pacifism, a few remaining Tories and others for one reason or another simply refused to take the oath.
New Jersey – see appendix for additional information
- The first colonial census of the early Swedish settlers was taken in 1693
- Colonial censuses were taken in 1726, 1738, 1745 and 1772, but were destroyed.
- New Jersey state censuses began in earnest in 1855 and were mainly for the apportionment of the state legislature
- The 1855 census records give only the name of the head of household with the number of males and females living in the household.
- From 1865 to 1895 the census lists every person in the household, age, sex, birth place of individual and parents, native or foreign born, and occupation.
- The 1905 and 1915 censuses give detailed information about each member of the household, including name, age , race, martial status, month and year of birth, state of birth of the individual and parents, the number of years an immigrant has lived in the U.S. and whether they are naturalized or not and their occupation.
New York – see appendix for additional information
- A 1698 colonial census was taken that often listed all inhabitants. The original records were destroyed, but a few fragments have been published. A compilation of these various tax, census and other lists that are available is being pursued by Kory L. Meyerink and is a work in progress that will be available for use in the future.
- New York took a state census every ten years from 1825 to 1875, one in 1892 and then every ten years from 1905 to 1925. This covers a period of 105 years where census records were taken every five years. However, many counties do not have records for every census.
- Only the head of the household is listed from 1825 to 1845.
- In 1845, columns were added to include whether the individual was born in New York, New England, and other states, Latin America, British Empire, France, German or other nations of Europe.
- Beginning in 1855, the name of every person in the household is listed. In this same census there was an enumeration of those who married or who died in the previous year.
- The 1855 to 1875 censuses include the name of the county in which the person was born.
- In 1865, there was a marriage enumeration included in the census which gave the name of the bride and groom, ages of those married, previous marital status, month and day of ceremony, where it took place, and whether it was a civil or church marriage.
- Very few of the New York state censuses have been indexed (the exception being Steuben County which has indexed all names in every census). A list of those with indexes follows in the appendix at the end of this paper.
- Existing original census records are usually in the county courthouse or with the county historian.
- The FHL has the most complete collection of films for the New York State census.
- The state library in Albany has microfilm copies of the census for the entire state for 1915 and 1925 and earlier years as well.
No record of an applicable state census has been found for the state. Most seem to be lost or severely damaged and unavailable for research. Septennial censuses for virtually every Pennsylvania county were taken every seven years from 1779 to 1863. These ‘census’ records were often called tax lists because their main purpose was for taxation.
As with all records, census enumerations have drawbacks. One of these drawbacks is that the legibility of the handwriting differs from record to record. Some may be clear and easy to read while others are faded completely away or are just not legible at all. There are also the issues of under- and over- counting. While there may have been a myriad of reasons why someone may not have been counted, there are two that are quite common.
First, remote areas may not have been counted because of physical barriers that impeded the enumerator. Often the census was taken in the spring or early summer when spring runoff was high. It may have been impossible for the enumerator to get to the family.
Second, at various times in our nation’s history, certain individuals have had a great distrust of government intervention into the private lives of its citizens. These individuals refused to answer any questions which they felt would give the government more power and information. While under counting seems to have been more common, over counting or padding census numbers seems also to have affected the accuracy of the records. Political outcomes sometimes were decided by the number of people in a given area.
The census enumeration was taken over a period of time and while it was not common that a person would get counted twice, society was mobile and moving westward and it happened. Some census records, especially in the colonial period, only listed a fraction of the population. In the early census records, only men were counted (as taxpayers) and whole segments of the population were missed in these enumerations.
- U.S. State and Special Census Register: A Listing of Family History Library Microfilm Numbers, by Eileen G. Buckway and Fred Adams. Revised 1992. 9 Microfiche (Salt Lake City: Family History Library, 1992) – an inventory, arranged by state and census year, describing the contents of each census and providing the Family History Library film numbers for most know existing state censuses.
- State Censuses: An Annotated Bibliography of Censuses of Population Taken After the Year 1790 by States and Territories of the United States, by Henry J. Dubester (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1948) – a comprehensive listing of all census records with information on questions answered, records that exist and other relevant information
- Early New York State Census Records, 1663-1772, by Carol M. Meyers (Gardena, California: RAM Publishers, 1965) – an excellent guide to the census records of New York
- The Family History Library Catalog by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: Family History Library, 1997 - )
- PERSI - The PERiodical Source Index can help to locate local periodical which may have articles covering the indexing of these census records. Many local historical societies have produced not only indexes for state census records, but in some instances have published these indexes independently. Look for these records by locality.
- State Census Records, by Ann S. Lainhart, (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1992)
- Map Guide to the U.S. Federal Censuses, 1790-1920, by William Thorndale and William Dollarhide (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1987)
- New York State Censuses & Substitutes, by William Dollarhide - Identifies 448 state census originals for New York’s 62 counties, located at 68 different New York repositories, plus transcripts/extracts, abstracts, or indexes in print, all with library call numbers and FHL film numbers.
- The New York Genealogical and Biographical Society website - contains specific information on all census records for the state along with guides and tools that are useful in research in the state
- New York State Census - describes the content of each New York census
- Rootsweb Census - A few states have transcribed census records. There are also a few indexes to these records on this site
State census records can help to provide a better picture of our ancestors and provide missing information. They may not be as readily available nor as fully indexed as the federal census, but they are certainly worth the effort to locate and use. Don’t forget to include them in your next search.
- Buckyway, G. Eileen and Fred Adams, “U.S. State and Special Census Register: A Listing of Family History Library Microfilm Numbers,” Salt Lake City: FamilyHistory Library, 1992.
- Davenport, David. “The State Censuses of New York 1825-1875,” Genealogical Journal, 14 (1985-86): 172-97.
- Dollarhide, William. “Mid-Atlantic State Censuses & Substitutes” Genealogy Bulletin. Bountiful: Heritage Creations, 2004.
- Dollarhide, William. The Census Book. Bountiful: Heritage Quest, 2000.
- Dubester, Henry J. State Censuses: An Annotated Bibliography of Censuses of Population Taken After the Year 1790 by States and Territories of the United States (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1948)
- Joselyn, Roger D. New York State Censuses and Tax Lists, New York Genealogical and Biographical Society, Online: www.newyorkfamilyhistory.org Accessed October 2005.
- LeBarron, Laura, “Finding Aids at the NYG&B Library for New York State Censuses,” NYG&B Newsletter 8 (1997): 11-13, 19-21.
Lainhart, Ann S. State Census Records. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1992.
- Meyerink, Kory L. “New York in 1698: Comprehensive List of Residents Based on Tax, Census, and Other Lists,”
- Meyers, Carol M. Early New York State Census Records, 1663-1772. Gardena, California: RAM Publishers, 1965
- Morgan, George. “Along Those Lines…City Directories” Online: < http://www.ancestry.com/columns/george/03-06-98.htm>, accessed on 15 January 2005.
- Remington, Gordon Lewis. “Research in Directories” chapter 11 in the The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy, revised addition, Loretto Dennis Szucs and Sandra Hargreaves Luebking, editors, Salt Lake City: Ancestry, 1997.
- Sperry, Kip. “State and Local Censuses Supplement Federal Census Schedules” Online: http://www.ancestry.com/learn/library/article.aspx?article+1238&print=1, accessed on 22 October 2005.
- Valentine, John F., “State and Territories Census Records in the United States,” Genealogical Journal 2 (4) (December 1973): 133-139.