Genealogy: 1800 U.S. federal census tutorial

1800 mashtead

By Barry J. Ewell

This is a comprehensive tutorial for researching the 1800 U.S. federal census. You will be introduced to what I have used and shared with thousands to successfully find generations of family. Begin by learning how to use the census as a foundation to effective research, identify, map, and follow family through generations.

The tutorial will expand your knowledge and skills of how to conduct an exhaustive search to find genealogical and Family History records, repositories, resolve research problems and connect with resources researching similar lines.

The tutorial is divided into the following sections:

  • 1790-1940 U.S federal census resources
  • Introduction to 1800 U.S. federal census
  • Clues and lessons learned from 1800 U.S. Federal census
  • Military service and bounty land applications
  • Defining the U.S. federal census
  • Questions asked on the 1800 U.S. Federal census

1800 resources

Click on any of the following years and you will be taken to that years’ census tutorial:


Download 1800 U.S. census research aids. Download and print the following resources to aid your census research.

  • U.S. census learning aids. Throughout the 1810 U.S. federal census tutorial find links to resources that I have specifically prepared to help you. In addition, I have written and assembled 190+ articles and resource aids to provide you a more in-depth understanding of the census research process.  I have tried to cover every possible question and angle that you are likely to face in your U.S. census research.  I would encourage you to use the resources often.  The category headings are as follows:
    • 190+ U.S. federal census articles and resource aids
      • U.S. federal census tutorials
      • Census and genealogy forms
      • Census research skills
      • Follow ancestors through the census
      • Researching names in the census
      • Defining ancestor age
      • Expanding census research to other resources
      • Expand your census research with military records
      • Census research best practices

1800 introduction
Introduction to 1800 U.S. Federal census
The following are a few of the details that are important to understand about the 1800 U.S. Federal census:

1800 Census MapNumber of persons included in the 1800 census: 5,308,483 people were living in the United States, of whom 893,602 were slaves.

1800 census day:  August 4, 1800
1800 census duration: 9 months
1800 census geography:

  • States and territories enumerated: 16 states and three territories where included in the census.
  • New states: The newest states included the in 1800 census were Kentucky,  Tennessee, District of Columbia
  • Territories included: Territory northwest of the Ohio River, Indiana and Mississippi Territory
  • The available states include: Connecticut, District of Columbia, Maine (inc. part of Massachusetts), Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Vermont
  • The missing states: Delaware, Georgia, New Jersey, Tennessee, Virginia
  • Efforts to reproduce missing states: There are ongoing efforts to reproduce the 1800 Census for the missing states by using local county records such as tax lists, oaths of allegiance, land entities, militia lists, petitions, road records, and other sources. These types of records are also known as census substitutes.

A few interesting facts about the 1800 census include:

  • Maryland included DC. At the time of the 1800 census, the area that was to become the District of Columbia was being managed/administered by Maryland and Virginia.  Maryland included the included within its returns the area under its control.  The population of the District of Columbia under its control included 8, 1444 (i.e., 5672 whites, 400 free blacks, 2,472 slaves.)  The Virginia records are lost.
  • No preprinted forms. 1790-1820 censuses did not have preprinted forms for the census takers to record information.  Each census taker was given sample copies and expected copy his census return on whatever paper he could find and post it in two public places.
  • Public hearing. 1790-1840 censuses were public meaning they were posted publicly so those included on the census could, if they could read, view and catch omissions and errors.
  • Age brackets. Age brackets are slit into five groups, only number of slaves are recorded, and Indians that were not taxed were included.
  • Territory of Louisiana. The Territory of Louisiana is purchased from France for a cost of 15 million dollars in 1803. The purchase includes all of present day Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma,  as well as part of the states of Colorado, Louisiana, Minnesota, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming.

1800 lessonsToo often I have seen genealogists overlooking the value of the 1800 census because they believe the limited information cannot be effectively used.  I have found just the opposite to be true. I would like to share with you a few of the ways I have used the information to extend and broaden my research and lessons learned along the way.

Build a family profile. I make it practice to start with the information I already know or suspect about the family.  I refer to this as my family profile. The more you know, the more options you have of correctly identifying and connecting the family one generation to the next. The information I like to include in my profile include:

  • Names of known and/or suspect family members
  • Relationships of known and/or suspect family members
    • Father (i.e., fathers, step-fathers)
    • Mother (i.e., mothers, step-mothers)
    • Children (i.e., brothers, sisters, step-children, adoptions)
    • Brothers’/sisters’ –in-law and their spouses (i.e. persons married to grown children of the family)
    • Grandparents (i.e. fathers’ side, mothers’ side, step-parents side)
    • Siblings of parents and their families (i.e., fathers’ side, mothers’ side, step-parents side and the members of their households)
    • Neighbors (i.e. names, surnames and family members)
    • Group (i.e., this could members of organization, church, etc.)
    • Boarders (i.e., persons living in the household but not family members)
    • Servants/slaves (i.e., persons who are identified as servants/slaves)
  • List of surname and variations (example: Ewell, Uhl, Youile, Yull, Yule, Zuile)
  • Locations of where known and/or suspect family members (i.e., towns, regions, states)
  • Locations of known and variations of the family surname (i.e., towns, regions, states)
  • List of documents I already have organized in a timeline format

I realize this might be hard for the 1800 census, but it is possible to include names that you have found on documents such as wills, court documents, church records and so forth. Having an idea of counts can give you ideas for sorting out the number tallies that are given in the free male, free female, free others, and slave columns.

Having a portion of the above listed data will give you key data that you can use when searching online databases, microfilm and other resources.

Build a case. The most important counsel I can give when using the 1790-1840 censuses is not to make any assumptions based on the data you find such as how big the family is by age and sex.  Use the information you find to build a case and then use other records to confirm and/or disprove what think is being presented about the family. Never ever run with you assumptions until they can be proved. I spent several years searching out someone else’s family unit that was not confirmed from the census data on 1790-1840’s. Of course it was my fault that I didn’t confirm the data before I started extending the research. Remember the data is based on all persons located in the home.  For example,

  • Don’t assume that the head of household is the oldest male, although it usually is.
  • Don’t assume, the oldest female is the wife of the head of household.  It could be a friend, neighbor, widowed sister or grandmother.  It could be even be a male who lost his wife and the females are his children.
  • Don’t assume that head of household is the first and only spouse. Are there different age groups for children?  This could mean the man married a younger wife and had children, married another woman and merged two family units together,  or even could be the male is taken care of deceased relative’s family.
  • Don’t assume that all the children in the home belong to the head of household.  The children could be his siblings who are now living with him after the death of his parents or children of a brother or sister.  The children could be those of friend who is away and just happen to be in their home during the time the census was taken.

Head of household. The head of household is the only name given.  All persons of the household (including head of household) are listed under the age and group categories as total numbers for each category.

  • Search other records. Use the name of head of household to search other records in the given location such as wills/probate records, court records, church records, land records, tax records.
  • Oldest person may not be head of household. The oldest person listed in the age groups may not have been the head of household. The individual could have been a parent or grandparent.
  • Identifying the right family group. You can use the head of household and the age groupings numbers to identify the right records of a family group and sort out records that might belong to head of household with the same name.  Caution; don’t discount a record that does not match up exactly to the head of household and category numbers. The listings included all persons in the home such as family, friends, neighbors, boarders, and visitors.
  • Information about women. Finding information about the woman will be hard if the man is still alive.
  • Junior and senior. During the 1800’s “Junior” (abbreviated as Junr. Jun, Jr) and “Senior” (abbreviated as Senr. Sen., Sr.) were used as nicknames when two men in the community had the same name.  Yes, John Jones Jr. could have been the son of John Jones Sr. or a John Jones, but I have learned it takes a little more confirmation with additional records before I make the link. Consider this, the older John Jones could have been a sibling, half-brother, cousin, uncle or not even related.
  • Head of household with same name. When you have heads of household with the same name, it can be confusing to know which one is your family.  In order to help sort out which one is your ancestor, you will need to have an idea when your ancestor was born and then compare ages through the various censuses.
  • Phonetically spelled. Most census takers wrote the names of your ancestors (i.e., first and last) phonetically, meaning as they sounded.  As you search for your ancestor among the different census and records that were created during their lifetime, be prepared to see their name written differently in each record.  Make sure to record the variations in your profile. For example, my ancestor Maxcey Ewell could easily be written as Maxey Yule, Maxcy Yuille, Maxee Uhl.  Also consider situation where your ancestor or the census taker were foreign.  A German whose name was Braun could have had it spelled  Brown, Broune, Browne, or Brawn.
  • Other category. Number of “other” free persons is a category which refers to nonwhite racial/ethnic groups.  Heads of households are named in this category.

Finding names of women. There are few sources where you can search for women during this time period. The following are a few lessons I have learned:

  • Head of household. Search the 1800-1840 censuses to see if she is named as head of household.
  • Military pensions. Search for military pension records from the Revolutionary War (1775-1783) and future Wars such as War of 1812 (1812-1815), Mexican-American War (1846-1848), U.S. Civil War (1861-1865). Remember that males under the age of 40 have a very good chance of being in the military now and in the future. Widows of soldiers have been eligible to receive the pensions of their husbands from the Revolutionary War forward.  Women could not join the military until 1890 as nurse so you will not find wills based on their service until after this date.
  • Search for wills. Searching for wills by a woman can be hit and miss. If a woman died after her husband and remarried, changes are there is no will because all she owned when to her new husband.  However, If she was single when she died, there might be a will.
  • Church records. Search to see if church records exist for the community in this time period. Usually if you find them, start by looking for the person listed as head of household in categories of marriage, christening of children, baptism of children, death of family members, etc. You may be able to find the maiden name of the wife, if the witnesses are named in the marriage. If you find a first name for the wife, search all the first names in the church records to give you suspect families where she may have been a child.
  • Related heads of household. If you are able to find the names of children associated with the male head of household, look for other heads of household in the area with the same first name.  Remember that children were usually given the name of parents.  Also look at the middle names of male children. The mother’s maiden name was often preserved in the middle name.
  • Bible records. If you are really lucky, you may be able to find bible records. For example, the Library of Virginia has a large collection of bible from the 17-1800’s.  I was able to locate a family bible that had been preserved this way

Woman as head of household. Finding a woman as a head of household 1790 to 1840 U.S. census usually means that she is a widow or the eldest daughter deceased parents. She may also be the head of household when the male is elderly or infirm (not physically or mentally strong.)

  • Surname. Use the surname of the woman to search for wills where she is named.
  • Remarriage. It was common when a woman remarried after the death of her husband, during this time period that all she owned when to her new husband. This includes the land.
  • Pension records. Look for pension records from the Revolutionary war. Widows of soldiers have been eligible to receive the pensions of their husbands from the Revolutionary War forward.  Women could not join the military until 1890 as nurse so you will not find wills based on their service until after this date.

Age and family composition. In the 1800 US Population Census, learn the approximate corresponding birth years associated with the age groupings provided.

  • Order. The first family would have been recorded in August 4, 1800 and the last family on May 4, 1801. The age groupings were for “For Free White Males and Females.”
  • Age brackets. Age brackets were divided into five categories and there were columns for all other free persons and slaves to be counted.
  • Do not assume. Do not assume that  45+ female is married to the 45+ male, the children on home belong to the family, or the children belong to the either the mother or  head of household.
  • Slaves. Slaves where to be counted as 3/5th of person.  We are not sure that the number in the slaves category is actual slaves or the addition of 3/5th for each slave.
  • Free white males and females. Because we are given more age groups for Free White Males and Free White Females, it makes easier for us to identify the exact person when we are presented names through other documents or later censuses. We are also able to make a little more sense of 1790 census with the numbers that are presented in the limited age categories.
  • Category tabulation. Numbers shown in the categories include all persons who were in the home such as family, relatives, friends, employees, visitors, and boarders.
  • Search other records. When you combine the age category with other records such as probate inventories and tax lists, you may be able to determine the names of the family and their birth order.
  • No children recorded after August 4, 1800. No matter when the census taker came, he was to record who was in the house as of August 4, 1800.  If a child was born after this date they were not to be counted.  If a person died before this date, they were not to be counted.  It is very probable the census taker just recorded who was there the day he arrived.
  • Ballpark. The age range provided in the categories only gives us a “ballpark” number.  The ball park figure is helpful in tracking the head of household from one census to the next especially if the name remains the same. We can also use the figure to help build an estimation of the family composition that needs to be confirmed with other records (e.g., church, wills/probate, land).
  • Oldest person. The oldest person listed in the age groups may not have been the head of household. The individual could have been a parent or grandparent.
  • Family scenarios. You can use the age category to develop family scenarios about individuals who have died.  For example, as you move forward in the census, you may find the age of a spouse to be much older or younger such as in the case where a wife is too young for some of the children being listed.  You may find young children listed in one census and gone in the next census which could mean that the child is dead or living somewhere else during the census.  A death of male can give clues to search for a will/probate record.  If a female in an age bracket is missing, she could have died or married.
  • Strategy. When you moving backwards from one census to the next such as the1800 to the 1810 census, you can subtract 10 years and when you find the family you will be able to use the age groupings to give you the estimation of family composition and help distinguish between families of the same name. The same is true when moving forward in the census from 1800 to 1790.  If the families don’t matchup exactly, its ok.  Remember that the census recorded all where in the home and did not denote who were family, friends, boarders, and so forth.
  • Age gaps. When you find age gaps in children it could hint for a number of issues such as the child could have died (Note: Search to see if death, church or cemetery records exist), there could be a second marriage or merged family families (Note: search for marriage records where the family lived at the time.)
  • Age ranges. When you find the same or similar age ranges by male and female for all or partial members of the family, you have a much better chance of being focused on the right group.

Slaves. The slave category should not be overlooked.

  • Age groupings. Slaves appear in the age groupings by name of the owner.
  • Find clues about your ancestor’s financial standing in the community.  If the family had slaves, it could be a sign that they had more wealth then others in the community.  The more slaves a family owned, the wealthier they were.
  • Estate and tax records. The slave category can also provide clues that other records exist such as estate, property records and tax records.  These records many include the name and age of the slaves.

Other records created by ancestors. One of the most important questions, I have asked in my research is what records were created by individuals living in the area/location at the time my ancestors lived here?  The answer to the question provides me a list of resources that I will systematically search to confirm, disregards, and expand the data I find in the census. A good place to begin to find the records is to reach out to the historical/genealogical society for the state and county and ask for their guidance on records available.  Make sure you ask if the records have been digitized and where they can be found online or other means of accessibility in not digital.

  • For example, one of the more common census substitutes for the 1800 census are tax lists.  I have commonly found the tax lists to include all males over the age of 21 with information like whether they owned land, slaves, and other property. If I were looking for tax lists from Virginia online, I would construct a Google search query on Genealogy Virginia Tax Lists; Goochland County Virginia Tax Lists; and/or Goochland County Historical Society.

What to search after 1840 U.S. census.  After the 1840 U.S. Census I have found it valuable to search 1790-1830 censuses followed by the colonial records which include church records, voting lists, property tax lists and so forth.

Using the 1800 U.S. census The 1800 U.S. census only provides the name of the head of household and counts of persons who were in the home at the time the census was taken. I’ve effectively used the census to

  • Follow the family beyond/before1850 census
  • Identify head of household
  • Estimate family structure such as the number of persons by age and sex
  • Differentiate between families of the same name
  • Locate and identify possible children not listed in later censuses
  • Locate and identify possible neighbors who might be family
  • Locate and identify possible parents
  • Locate and identify children not yet known
  • Locate and identify family who are neighbors
  • Identify slave holders
  • Identify spelling variations
  • Follow the family before the 1800 census into Colonial records
  • Locate and identify family in other census substitute records (e.g., probate inventories, tax lists)

Remember that the 1800 U.S. Census by itself is limited but when combined with other censuses and records, you now have a body of information and knowledge that have the ability to give a good overview of the family.

1800 military
Search for military records from the Revolutionary War and/or War of 1812 for the head of household.  Even though there is no information in the 1800 census that identifies the man as being in the war, it is still worth your time to look.  Search for pension applications and records of pension payments for veterans, their widows, and other heirs. The pension applications usually provide the most information and can include supporting documents such as marriage, birth, and dead records/certificates, pages from family Bibles, family letters, dispositions of witnesses, affidavits, discharge papers and other supporting documents. Even if you ancestor did not receive a pension, look to see if his pension request was denied.

Bounty land applications also are related wartime service. The federal government provided bounty land for those who served in the Revolutionary War (1775-1783), the War of 1812 (1812-1815), the Mexican-American War (1846-1848), and Indian wars between 1775 and 1855. Bounty lands were offered as incentive to serve and as a reward for service. Bounty land was claimed by veterans or their heirs. The fed¬eral government reserved tracts of land for this purpose. The states of New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia also set aside tracts of bounty land for their Revolutionary War veterans.

Search for these military records:

1800 defining

A census is a government-sponsored enumeration of the population in a particular area and contains a variety of information — names, heads of household (or all household members), ages, citizenship status, ethnic background, and so on. Here are some different types of census records you are likely to come across in your research.

U.S. federal census is also called a population schedule. Federal census records provide the building blocks of your research, allowing you to both confirm information and to learn more. Compiled in the United States for every decade since 1790, census population schedules are comprehensive, detailed records of the federal government’s decennial survey of American households. Information from the schedules is used by the federal government for demographic analysis.

The schedules themselves, of interest primarily to genealogists, contain the personal information of the survey respondents. To protect the privacy of the people whose names appear in each schedule, census records are restricted for 72 years after the census is taken and are not available to researchers during that time.

1800 questions
The following are the questions found on the 1800 U.S. Federal Census:

Col. 1: Names of the Heads of Families

Col. 2:  (Number of) Under ten years of age to 10 (0-9)
Col. 3: (Number of) Of ten years, and under sixteen (10-15)
Col. 4: (Number of) Of ten years, and under twenty-six, includes heads of families (10-25)
Col. 5: (Number of) Of twenty-six, and under forty-five, including heads of families (26-44)
Col. 6: (Number of) Of forty-five and upwards, including heads of families (45+)

Col. 7:  (Number of) Under ten years of age to 10 (0-9)
Col. 8: (Number of) Of ten years, and under sixteen (10-15)
Col. 9: (Number of) Of ten years, and under twenty-six, includes heads of families (10-25)
Col. 10: (Number of) Of twenty-six, and under forty-five, including heads of families (26-44)
Col. 11: (Number of) Of forty-five and upwards, including heads of families (45+)

Col. 12: (Number of) All other free persons, except Indians, not taxed
Col. 13: (Number of) Slaves

Col. 14: Total
Col. 15: (No. of page where this was recorded)
Col. 15: Remarks