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
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 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
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
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
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
More records and materials
will be discussed at a later date.
Bassett Historical Center
Fairystone Park Highway
Bassett, Virginia 24055
?The Roots that make Us One
are Stronger than the Branches that Divide Us.? Author unknown