"Thanks so very much for all the work you do in your e-mail monthly newsletter. I've been doing family history research for several years, but have learned more in the last year from you than in the last 10 years on my own. I've got a notebook where I keep all my 'helps'. The info from you is right up front. Keep up the good work." (Gayle Navarre) more  
Helpful & Free Since 1995 more

Understanding the census by knowing about
census takers and the paths that they took

Census takers. Who were they? Everyday people like you and me. Some were young, some old. In the earlier censuses, they were usually men on horseback, carrying their clipboards with blank census sheets ready to be filled with information. They may have been school teachers on summer break or farmers trying to supplement their income. They came from all walks of life. They all knew how to read and write and they usually lived in the area they enumerated.

The government paid them to go door to door with the goal of getting a head count of all people living in the United States. Then, as today, some were excellent workers, producing accurate, legible records. They took pains to get all pertinent information and record it on their papers. Others, however, were mainly interested in payday and did less than an admirable job.

Possible paths of a census taker in any given area

The census taker could walk many different paths to cover his territory. There was no instruction on the direction he should take, only that he must cover the entire territory assigned to him. People who live on adjoining property might be listed several pages apart, depending upon the route taken by the enumerator. In farm land and early times, the paths of the census takers often meandered in strange patterns.

When people weren't home or only children were present to answer the census questions, some workers filled in the blanks from their own knowledge or gave educated guesses. Usually, however, questions were answered by an adult of the household, making the information generally correct.

Also see our in-depth Guide to the US Census

Judy Hanna Green:

Judy Hanna Green is a genealogy teacher and expert researcher based in Northeast Florida. She is a long-time Family History Center volunteer, and teaches genealogy classes in the community. One of her favorite topics to share with her students is the census. Her U.S. census tutorial has been enjoyed by millions since it went on-line in 1995 on the Treasure Maps genealogy Web site at http://www.amberskyline.com/treasuremaps/ - Your resource for genealogy, family tree and family history products, research tools and other genealogy search helps.

Copyright 1995-2007 by Robert Ragan - All Rights Reserved.