Genealogy: Pre-1850 U.S. census, Build a case for your family

Balance 3By Barry J. Ewell
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.