Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Tuesday's Tip: Research Using the 1850 United States Federal Census

The record collection for the 1850 United States Federal Census is one of my favorite record collections.  It is available in digital format online at:

 Ancestry.com  ($$) - 20,053,649 entries

*  MyHeritage.com ($$) - 20,571,627 entries

Findmypast.com ($$) - 20,458,408 entries

*  FamilySearch.org (Free) - 20,224,571 entries

The official population count of the United States in 1850 was 23,191,876, including 3,204,313 slaves who were numbered in a separate slave census.

Why are the number of entries different at each provider, and different from the official census count?  Perhaps it is because all of the  providers permit an alternate user-provided index entry for enumerated persons.  In this census year, slaves were enumerated in a separate census (on FamilySearch, there are 3,587,571 entries on the 1850 Slave Schedule). 

The description of the 1850 United States Federal Census collection on Ancestry.com says:
This database details those persons enumerated in the 1850 United States Federal Census, the Seventh Census of the United States. In addition, the names of those listed on the population schedule are linked to the actual images of the 1850 Federal Census, copied from the National Archives and Records Administration microfilm, M432, 1009 rolls. (If you do not initially find the name on the page that you are linked to, try a few pages forward or backward, as sometimes different pages had the same page number.)
For the first time in the history of the United States census, enumerators of the 1850 census were instructed to record the names of every person in the household. Added to this, enumerators were presented with printed instructions, which account for the greater degree of accuracy compared with earlier censuses. Enumerators were asked to include the following categories in the census: name; age as of the census day; sex; color; birthplace; occupation of males over age fifteen; value of real estate; whether married within the previous year; whether deaf-mute, blind, insane, or "idiotic"; whether able to read or write for individuals over age twenty; and whether the person attended school within the previous year. No relationships were shown between members of a household. The categories allowed Congress to determine persons residing in the United States for collection of taxes and the appropriation of seats in the House of Representatives.
Few, if any, records reveal as many details about individuals and families as do the U.S. federal censuses. The population schedules are successive "snapshots" of Americans that depict where and how they were living at particular periods in the past. Because of this, the census is often the best starting point for genealogical research after home sources have been exhausted.
The 1850 Census includes the following states and territories: Alabama, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota Territory (includes Dakota area), Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico Territory (includes Arizona area), New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon Territory (includes Washington and Idaho areas), Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah Territory, Vermont, Virginia (includes West Virginia counties), Wisconsin.
The United States was the first country to call for a regularly held census. The Constitution required that a census of all "Persons...excluding Indians not taxed" be performed to determine the collection of taxes and the appropriation of seats in the House of Representatives. The first nine censuses from 1790 to 1870 were organized under the United States Federal Court system. Each district was assigned a U.S. marshal who hired other marshals to administer the census. Governors were responsible for enumeration in territories.
The official enumeration day of the 1850 census was 1 June 1850. All questions asked were supposed to refer to that date. By 1850, there were a total of thirty-one states in the Union, with Florida, Texas, Iowa, Wisconsin, and California being the latest editions. The four new territories of Oregon, Minnesota, New Mexico, and Utah were also enumerated. There were no substantial state- or district-wide losses.
Here is an example from the FamilySearch census for a search for one person:

  I searched each record provider for some of my exact surnames of interest.  The results are:

*  Seaver               1063 (on Ancestry)
                                840 (on MyHeritage)
                                854 (on Findmypast)
                                856 (on Family Search)

*  Carringer               84 (on Ancestry)
                                  22 (on MyHeritage)
                                  22 (on Findmypast)
                                  22 (on Family Search)

*  Auble                  197 (on Ancestry)
                                197 (on MyHeritage)
                                177 (on Findmypast)
                                175 (on Family Search)

*  Vaux                      73  (on Ancestry)
                                  61 (on MyHeritage)
                                  60 (on Findmypast)
                                  61 (on Family Search) 

*  Smith           275,026 (on Ancestry)
                         279.589 (on MyHeritage)
                         279,475 (on Findmypast)
                         274,947 (on Family Search)

FamilySearch, MyHeritage and Findmypast have almost the same number of entries for each surname except Smith - I think FamilySearch provided the index and images for this collection to Findmypast and MyHeritage.

Ancestry,com and FamilySearch created separate census indexes using paid and/or volunteer indexers.  The differences in numbers between providers for a specific surname is probably due to the providers permitting a user-submitted addition to the index.

It is important to understand what this collection represents and includes.  This collection is paper records created by the U.S. Census Bureau in 1850, copied to microfilm and provided at some time for digitization to the digital record providers for a fee.  The record providers then used paid or volunteer indexers to create the different indexes.

These records are Original Source records, with Primary Information (state, county, town) and Secondary Information (for everything else), and Indirect Evidence of the person's name, age, and other items.

I use this database extensively to find my ancestors, my relatives, and other persons in my family tree.  I usually download the record image to my computer for my ancestors, summarize the information for each person in the household, and enter a Census event for the household, with the official census date, the census place, and craft a source citation.  I add a Note for each person with the location, date, and household summary information, and add a Media item for each person in the household of my ancestral families.

For those interested in mining this record collection for Hints of persons in their Ancestry Member Tree, the Ancestry.com database number is 8054.  Currently, I have over 2,280 Hints for persons in my Ancestry Member Tree who are indexed in this record collection.  I work on them occasionally, adding content and source citations to profiles in my RootsMagic family tree.  Of course, I have some accepted Hints from this collection already in my RootsMagic family tree and my Ancestry Member Tree, but not many.

I have not attached many MyHeritage Hints to my MyHeritage tree, which is now a year out of date.  On MyHeritage, I have 1,769 pending Record Matches for persons in my MyHeritage tree.


NOTE:  Tuesday's Tips is a genealogy blog meme intended to provide information about a resource helpful to genealogists and family historians, especially in the U.S. online genea-world.

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