United States Census, 1850

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Federal Census

Record Description


Federal census takers were asked to record information about all those who were in each household on the census day, which was 1 June 1850. A census taker might have visited a house on a later date, but the information he collected was supposed to be about the people who were in the house on the census day. The basic census enumeration unit was the county. Each county was divided into enumeration districts, one for each enumerator. The completed forms were sent to the Census Office in the Commerce Department in Washington D.C.[1]

Federal censuses are usually reliable, depending on the knowledge of the informant and the care of the census enumerator. Information may have been given to a census taker by any member of the family or by a neighbor. Some information may have been incorrect or deliberately falsified. [2]

Population Schedules

Under heading 3, entitled ‘‘The name of every person whose usual place of abode on the 1st day of June, 1850, was in this family,’’ insert the name of every free person in each family, of every age, including the names of those temporarily absent, as well as those that were at home on that day. The name of any member of a family who may have died since the 1st day of June is to be entered and described as if living, but the name of any person born since the 1st day of June is to be omitted. The names are to be written, beginning with the father and mother; or if either, or both, be dead, begin with some other ostensible head of the family; to be followed, as far as practicable, with the name of the oldest child residing at home, then the next oldest, and so on to the youngest, then the other inmates, lodgers and borders, laborers, domestics, and servants.[3]

Under heading 4, entitled ‘‘Age,’’ insert in figures what was the specific age of each person at his or her last birthday previous to the 1st of June, opposite the name of such person. If the exact age in years can not be ascertained, insert a number which shall be the nearest approximation to it. The age, either exact or estimated, of everyone, is to be inserted. If the person be a child under 1 year old, the entry is to be made by the fractional parts of a year, thus: One month, one-twelfth; two months, two-twelfths; three months, three-twelfths, and so on to eleven months, eleven-twelfths.[4]

Under the heading 12, entitled ‘‘Persons over 20 years of age who can not read and write.’’ The marshal should be careful to note all persons in each family, over 20 years of age, who can not read and write, and opposite the name of each make a mark, thus, (1). The spaces opposite the names of those who can read and write are to be left blank. If the person can read and write a foreign language, he is to be considered as able to read and write. [5]

Non-population Schedules

The non-population Schedules for the 1850 census includes, Agricultural Schedule, Manufacturing Schedule, Mortality Schedule, Social Statistics Schedule.[6]



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  1. http://www.census.gov/history/pdf/1850instructions.pdf
  2. http://www.census.gov/history/pdf/1850instructions.pdf
  3. Jason G. Gauthier, Measuring America: The Decennial Census from 1790 to 2000, PDF download. (Washington, D.C. : U.S. Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration, U.S. Census Bureau, 2002); U.S. Census Bureau (http://www.census.gov/ : accessed 22 Nov 2015), page 9-10.
  4. Gauthier, Measuring America, 10.
  5. Gauthier, Measuring America, 11.
  6. Template:Citation