From posts I see on social media, I am not the only one around wondering every morning “What day is it?” That’s by way of an explanation for no column in last week’s Dickson Post. I just plain lost track of time. 

I’ve dealt with census records in the past, but only the federal records. You may remember that the “census” we talk about is only one part of the U.S. decennial census, at least prior to the 20th century. In the 19th century one can find various schedules: agricultural, manufacturing, mortality and others. And most of them are on Ancestry or FamilySearch.

But not everyone knows that some of the states took their own censuses. They, too, are on both Ancestry and FamilySearch. To find them you need to search the Catalog or Card Catalog in Ancestry’s case. I entered “state census” in the keyword box on Ancestry and pulled up a number of entries. However, I did not see North Carolina, and I happened to know that state had some. So, I entered “North Carolina” and “census” and that pulled them up.

On FamilySearch I went to the catalog and entered “state census” on the subject line. Nothing. Then I typed the state name and the word “census.” That worked. It located both the Federal and state census records for the state. Since it’s not searchable, it is a bit cumbersome; you first locate the film that includes the county where your ancestor lived. Then you search page by page until you find it. 

Ancestry is a bit easier. On the search page, enter the state for title and “census” for keyword. The actual image may not be there, but the census is searchable by name. So how can a state census help in your research?

As an example, one of my third great-grandfathers moved from Ohio to Iowa sometime between 1840 and 1860. The state census can help narrow down exactly when he became an Iowa resident. And he is listed in the 1852 Iowa state census. The image is there, and I see that poor old Daniel was apparently the only male, with five females in the household. By 1854 the household numbered three: Daniel, presumed wife Dorothy, and 18-year-old Mary A. 

Why did I label Dorothy his “presumed” wife? Because just like the federal census before 1880, relationships of the parties are not specified.

If you are lucky enough to have found colonial ancestors, you may find pre-1775 censuses. One of my lines came to Maryland from Ireland prior to the Revolutionary War … but when? There is a colonial census from 1776 and the entire family is listed on that. I might have to go to deeds or other records to look for an earlier date, but at least I know they were established here by that date.

Some states will even lend their census microfilm through interlibrary loan. When I worked at the library there was one patron who came in fairly often to borrow film from the Kansas State Library, mostly the state census schedules.

Obviously, if the state you are interested in does not have state censuses, you will have to fall back on other sources, like probate records, deeds, tax lists and other sources, but it is valuable to know that state censuses do exist.


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