Genealogy: Pre-1850 U.S. census, Researching head of household

1810 Male 2By Barry J. Ewell
In the 1790-1840 census records 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,. See the article, ” Genealogy: Searching ancestors in census substitutes.”

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 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.

Women. Finding information about the woman will be hard if the man is still alive.

Jr./Sr. 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.

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. 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.

Free persons. Number of “other” free persons is a category which refers to nonwhite racial/ethnic groups.  Heads of households are named in this category.