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History Corner By Pat Ross & Fran Snead

April 03, 2006

Last month we learned about some of the different documents and records that are important in genealogical research?marriage records, wills and deeds. We shall continue with the records that are housed at the Bassett Historical Center, and the importance of the census records.

A census is a record that is taken by the government every ten years as the Constitution (United States Constitution, Article 1, Section 2) provided to determine how many people are living in our country, in which county and in which state they are living. This type of record started in 1790 and listed then the heads of household, the number of white males above and below the age of 21 in that household, the number of slaves, and the number of horses and cattle. Women evidently were not important enough to be listed!

Persons taking the census usually provided their own paper, whether it was a scrap piece of paper, an account book, journal or a ledger. The census taker went from house to house on a street or road, thus giving you a bit of ?history? as to the neighbors of your great grandfather or great grandmother. Usually the lady of the house would give the information as the father would be at work, or in the fields, and ages were correct. Should the father be home, and if he gave the information, ages were at times a ?bit? off. If neither parent were home, instead of having to walk the long distance back to the house, the census taker would ask the neighbors about this family?ages were off more than a ?bit?! The census takers took information about the persons and families who were in existence at that time, and the value of this accounting, whether information is off or not, is great. A census search can be time-consuming and sometimes frustrating, but no other records in existence will contain more information about the persons and families listed.

As you can tell from the 1790 census, many of the early census records contained a minimal amount of data, but they have proven to be most valuable in putting together the genealogical puzzle of a family. The census records have also been quite useful to help locate and identify specific persons and families.

There was not much change in the census records until 1850 when emphasis was placed on the individual member of the family, not on the family itself. Prior to the 1850, an entire family could be described on one line of the census; now, one line was reserved for each family member.

In the 1850 census, the age, sex, color, occupation, place of birth and the value of real estate was provided. If you were married, attended school, if you could not read or write, or if a person in the household was deaf, blind or insane, this information was written into the census record. Most important was that ALL members of the household were counted.

Each year more information was given on the census, as the place of birth for both your father and mother, and a person?s relationship to the head of the household or family. This information was wonderful, as one could find an elderly parent living in that same household with a son or daughter, or in-laws living in the household.

By 1900 more information was garnered by the census takers, and this certainly gave researching a boost. Not only was the age of each person in the household recorded, but the month and year of birth were given. The marital status of each household member was stated and usually this could have just been the father and mother in that particular household; the number of years each had been married, the number of children to which the mother had given birth, and the number of these children that were still living.

If you had not been born in the United States, the 1900 census also furnished the information on immigration. The year that a person immigrated to the United States was recorded, as well as the number of years that a person had been residing in the United States. It also stated that naturalization had taken place. This was information that many researchers over the years have found to be invaluable.

The 1910, 1920, and 1930 census records continued to give new information. If the person were now a naturalized citizen, the year of naturalization was given in the 1920 census. Both the 1920 and 1930 census records provided information on a person?s mother country, if not the United States. The mother country was listed, as well as the native language of that person.

For occupational information, the trade, profession or a particular kind of work as a spinner, a salesman, fisherman or a teacher was required, along with the industry or business as a dry goods store, or shipyard, public school or cotton mill. The census also asked if you were the employer, or a salary or wage worker, or if you worked on your own account. For 1920, the census asked if you owned or rented your home, if you were widowed or divorced.

Prior to the 1930 census nothing had been asked about the military. But, on the 1930 census it was asked whether or not you were a veteran of the United States military or naval forces ?mobilized for any war or expedition?.

Another first for the 1930 census was the question, ?Do you own a radio set?? Why was this question asked, and what was the importance? A news release from the U.S. Census Bureau website dated Thursday, March 28, 2002 contained the following: ?According to the 1930 census, 12 million people had access to radios. A new question, ?Does this household have a radio?,? was designed to measure the extent of the nation?s leap into new home-appliance technology.?

The Historical Center has census records from 1790 through 1930 in book form, microfilm, and/or computerized records. Census schedules are restricted to protect the privacy of the living, thus schedules are less than seventy-two years old, and are released every ten years. However, with people living longer today, many of our patrons find themselves on the 1920 or 1930 census.

Personal information on the later census records can be furnished by the Bureau of the Census for special circumstances. It can furnish information to the person that is on a certain enumeration, or to a legal representative of that person as the Power of Attorney. An application can be filed by a blood relative, as a parent, child, brother or sister, or the surviving spouse. There are other restrictions for an application such as this, and more information may be found on the internet.

I hope that the information on the census records has been informative as well as interesting to you. Researching this type of record is almost like turning a page in a family history book, and is so rewarding for researchers.

More records and materials will be discussed at a later date.

Pat Ross

Bassett Historical Center

3964 Fairystone Park Highway
Bassett, Virginia 24055

?The Roots that make Us One are Stronger than the Branches that Divide Us.? Author unknown

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