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General Overview

The United States first took a census in 1790. Every 10 years, the U. S. takes a national census. The most recent census was completed in 2000. The year 2000 was the first year that the U. S. Census Bureau had two different census forms: the long form and the short form. The long form was mailed out to residents randomly. The U.S. census is probably one of the most used resources used by genealogists and family historians researching U.S. genealogy.

Like most government documents, the intention of the U. S. Census was not for the intended use of future genealogists. Its main purpose was and continues to be to determine the population in order to apportion representation in Congress.

Although the statistics are available for the 2000 census, individual information is not available for public viewing. There is a 72 year privacy law that prevents the general public from viewing the details. The most recent census available for public viewing is the 1930 census. This became available in 2002. The 1940 census will become available in the year 2012.

One day in each census year is designated as census day. The enumeration begins on this day. In theory, all persons living at the house on census day was to be included, regardless of when the census taker visited the household. Individuals who died after the census day but before the census taker visited the household were to be listed as if they were still alive. Babies born after census day were to be omitted.

Here is a list of the census day in each of the census years from 1790 through 1940.

Census Day 1790 - 1940
Census Year Census Day
1790, 1800, 1810 First Monday in August
1820 August 7 (1st Monday in August)
1830, 1840, 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1890, 1900 June 1
1880 – Indian Schedule October 1
1910 April 15
1920 January 1
1930, 1940 April 1

In Ohio, the first complete census is 1820. Fragments of the 1810 census can be found in various history books. The 1790, 1800, and 1810 census for Hamilton, Washington, and other early Ohio counties does exist.

Highlights from Select U.S. Census Records

Prior to the 1850 U.S. census, only the heads of households were listed by name. Everyone else in the household was grouped by age and gender. For example, you may have 2 males under the age of 5; 1 female under the age of 5; 1 male between 5 and 10; 3 females between the ages of 5 and 10 years; 1 male between 40 and 50; 1 female between 30 and 40; 1 male between 70 and 80.

The 1840 census does include a column to indicate whether there was a Revolutionary War Veteran. It also includes an area for the number of slaves and free men, categorized by age.

The 1850 U.S. census was the first to list all members residing in the household. In addition, the birth place and age of each individual is listed. The occupation is listed and the value of real estate. No relationship is given to the head of the household. Also, use caution when analyzing the census. Many times, grandchildren may be listed under the grandparents' surname rather than their own surname.

The 1860 and 1870 U.S. censuses include the names of each individual living in the household, age, place of birth, occupation, real estate, and property. There was also an area to designate whether the individual could read or write or whether they were deaf, blind, or dumb.

The 1880 U.S. census was the first to give relationship to the head of household. In addition, the birth place of the individual's father and mother was recorded.

The 1890 U.S. census was destroyed by fire in the 1930s. If archivists would have known then how to salvage damaged material, much of the 1890 census may have been saved. Most of the damage was done by smoke and water. Few of the records were actually destroyed by fire. For a list of those surviving fragments, refer to pages 18 and 19 of the book by Emily Croom, The Genealogist's Companion & Sourcebook. For Ohio, only two households in Cincinnati, Hamilton County survived. Also, three households in Wayne Township, Clinton County, OH survived.

There was a special census taken for the Union Veterans and Widows of Union Veterans of the Civil War taken. This does exist as one of several substitutes for the 1890 U.S. census. For more information about the fire that destroyed the 1890 census, visit the National Archives website.

The 1900 U.S. census is by far the best federal census taken. It is the only census that records both the birth month and birth year of each individual in the household. In addition, it was the first census that asked for immigration information. It asks for the year of immigration, how many years the individual has been in the United States, whether the individual is an alien, naturalized, or if the papers are still pending (sometimes designated as PA for pending application). It is the first census that asks the females how many children they have had and how many were still living at the time of the census. This census indicates how many marriages for each individual. For example, you may a M1 (first marriage), M2 (2nd marriage), or M3 (3rd marriage).

The 1910 U.S. census includes how many children were born to the females and how many were still living at the time of the census. In addition, it indicates how many years the couple has been married. Immigration information can be found as well as the other pieces information asked on previous census records.

The 1920 U.S. census indicates how old the husband and wife were when they were married for the first time. It does not indicate the number of children born to the mother or how many were still living at the time of the census.

The 1930 U.S. census is the first census that asks whether the household owned a radio.

The 1940 U.S. Census is the most recent census available for public viewing. This is the first census to date that indicates who provided the information to the census taker. This is designated by a circle with an x in it.


When viewing U.S. Census Records, often times pleasant surprises may be found. For example, usually specific occupations are not listed prior to the 1850 U.S. Census. Yes, there are columns to indicate the number of people in agriculture, manufacturing, commerce, etc. on the early U.S. Census Records. However, for the Town of Wooster, Wayne County, Ohio in the 1820 U.S. Census, handwritten page number 301, specific occupations are listed for some individuals:

  • Levi Cox, Recorder of Wayne County
  • Joel Harry, Inn Keeper
  • Samuel Quinby, Receiver of Public Money
  • John Patton, Inn Keeper
  • Moses Owen, Constable
  • Samuel Knapp, Clerk to Commissioner
  • Thos. Barr, Presbyterian Preacher
  • Joseph Barkendull, Sheriff of Wayne County
  • John Yergan, Butcher
  • Francis H. Foltz, Treasurer of Wayne County
  • Wm. Larwill, Clerk of Court of Common Pleas
  • Elizabeth Jones, Inn Keeper
  • Cyrus Spink, County Auditor

Other bonuses seen (not necessarily for Wayne County, Ohio) include specific counties of birth, towns of origin for immigrants, specific year of birth (not including the 1900 US Census) and more. Do not hesitate to check every available Census record for your ancestor because you never know when the Enumerator may have provided additional information on your ancestor.


In the early years, the informant may have been the father, mother, child, another family member, someone unrelated residing in the household, or a neighbor. In addition, depending on how the question was asked will determine what was recorded. For example, if the census taker asked where the individual was from, this did not necessarily mean the birth place of the individual. Researchers must keep in mind geographical changes, too. The same individual in one census may indicate he was born in Germany. The same individual in the next census may indicate he was born in Switzerland. The same individual may report in the following census he was born in France. This does not mean that the individual was born in three different countries, or that he did not know where he was born. Rather, the country may have changed boundaries.

Ages may differ, too. Keep in mind that birthdays were not necessarily celebrated the same way in the 19th century as they were in the 20th and 21st centuries. The age of the individual may have been estimated. Maybe the informant did not know the actual age of the individual. Maybe the individual lied about his or her age to cover up information.

Many researchers slam into a brick wall because they have not approached the census research with an open mind. Individuals in the 19th and 20th centuries moved just as much as we move in the 21st century. Spelling variations present a problem. Given names and surnames were spelled phonetically. Individuals used abbreviated names, nick names, initials, or used middle names rather than given names. For example, the name Mary Elizabeth could be listed as Mary, Maria, Mariah, Elizabeth, Eliza, Lizzie, Libby, Beth, M. E. or E. M. Accents from immigrants affected how the name may have been spelled. The immigrant may not have known how to spell the English equivalent of his or her name. The immigrant may have changed their name to make it more Americanized. For example, the given name in Guiseppe in Italian may be Joe or Joseph in English. Chechina in Italian may have been changed to Kay in English. Antonio many be Anthony. Juan would be John.

With the resources available today, it helps in doing census research. Ancestry Library Edition has the entire U.S. Census from 1790 to 1940 every name indexed. Wild card features may be used to help in spelling derivations. You can search all states for a particular name at one time. Advanced search features are available. You can specify the birth place, the approximate birth year (give or take a specified number of years), the gender, or the relationship in the household. Heritage Quest also has the census images indexed. A more detailed discussion of these databases will be discussed in Chapter 18


Pre-computer age, genealogists would need to rely on other indexing mechanisms to find their ancestor. They would have had to order many microfilm reels in hopes that their ancestor could be found on the reel. They may need to consult other resources, such as Probate Court records and newspapers to try to find where their ancestor migrated to. This took time and money.

Many of the early U.S. census records were indexed by the head of household. These were made available in book form. Researchers would need to locate a library or other organization that may have a copy of the required census index. Other times, the genealogist would need to depend on the soundex or miracode to try to find their ancestor. In the Internet age, soundex converters simply the process. Soundex converters can be found by going to Cyndi's List and searching for soundex converter, or the researcher can Google the search and come up with results.

Although the soundex and miracode are seldom used by genealogists today, it is valuable to be somewhat familiar with these systems. They can still prove beneficial in determining alternative spelling to the last name. The soundex was made available for the 1880, 1900, and 1920. Much of the 1910 census was done by miracode. The census records are indexed by state using a code that is based on the sounds in the last name. The 1880 soundex only includes families with children under the age of 10. Each code includes a letter followed by three numbers. The letter is the first letter of the surname. Thus, the first letter of the last name is not coded. Only subsequent consonants are coded. All vowels (a, e, i, o, and u) and the letters y, w, and h are crossed out. Double letters count as one. The code is as follows:

Soundex/Miracode Table
Code Number Key Letters
1 b, p, f, v
2 c, s, k, g, j, q, x, z
3 d, t
4 l
5 m, n
6 r

If you run out of consonants, use the digit 0 as a place holder. Here are a few examples using the coding system.

  • Surname Metcalf => M324

Variations may include: Medcalf, Midcalf, Metcalf, Metcalfe, and Mitchell.

  • Surname Ray => R000

Variations may include: Rhea, Rea, Roe, Roehe, Rowe, Roy, Rue, Rye, Rey, Riewe

  • Surname Matthews => M320

Variations may include: Mathis, Mathews, Mattes, Mutz, Muths, Metts, Metz

Online Soundex Converter

Wayne County, OH Indexes to U.S. Census Records

There is an index to the U.S. census for Wayne County, Ohio for the years 1820-1920. It only indexes the head of the household and any individuals in the household who had a different surname than the head of the household. The 1930 and 1940 index were not compiled since by the time it became available, digitized images of the census were available through Ancestry Library Edition.

Each Wayne County, Ohio index to the U.S. census is organized a little differently. There are two indexes for the 1820 U.S. Census. The index gives the name and the page number. The page number refers to the handwritten number on the census rather than the stamped number. This is the only index that refers to the handwritten page numbers. This can be very confusing for researchers since the handwritten page numbers are not easily seen. The other index includes an abstract of 1820 U.S. Census and a map showing approximately where the family resided.

The 1830, 1840, and 1860 census gives the name and the page number. The page number refers to the stamped number. The second half of the 1830 index groups the names by township. This provides the researcher with a snap shot of the neighbors of his or her ancestor. The 1830 index for Wayne County, Ohio was the only one compiled in this manner.

The 1850 and 1880 census index includes abstracts of the census records. The 1850 abstract is in alphabetical order by surname. It includes the names of the individuals, their ages, and their birth places. The 1880 census abstract is organized in alphabetical order by township and within each township, in alphabetical order by surname. Wooster and Orrville are separately listed. A guide to the occupation and birth place abbreviations can be found in the front of the book. There is a head of household index in the back of the book. The index includes the township in which the individual resides.

Much of the 1870 census is difficult to read. To assist the researcher, the name, township abbreviation, the family number, and the page number is given.

The 1900 census index does not include page numbers. Rather, the first three digits refer to the enumeration district. The second set of three digits refers to the family number. If there is a hyphen between the two sets of three digit numbers, then the indexed individual is the head of household. If there is an asterisk between the numbers, this indicates that the indexed individual is not the head of household. Rather, he or she has a different surname than the head of household.

Similar to the 1870 census, much of the 1910 census is difficult to read. This index provides the name of the head of household, gives the family number, and indicates whether the individual is included on reel 1 or reel 2 of the microfilm.

The 1920 census index includes the name and page number. However, partially through the Wayne County, Ohio census, the pages were renumbered. The first numbers go through 287. Then, they start over at 1. In the index, if you see a 287 + the number, it refers to the renumbered set of pages.

State Census Records

Ohio did not take any state censuses. However, a census of eligible voters was taken every four years, beginning in 1803. These are known as the Quadrennial Enumerations.

State censuses were often taken in years between the U.S. Census. The state censuses were designed to tabulate specific data about the inhabitants. Such information may include but is not limited to the following:

  • Financial strengths and needs of communities
  • Tallies of school-age children and potential school populations; used to predict needs for teachers and facilities
  • Military strength (cavalry horse resources, grain storage)
  • Revenue assessment and urban planning
  • Monitoring African Americans moving into northern cities

Two books discuss in greater detail the State Censuses. These include:

  1. State Census Records by Ann S. Lainhart
  2. The Source

Since the 1890 U.S. Census was destroyed by fire years ago, the state censuses for the years 1885 and 1895 prove to be very useful. Some of these states include Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan (1888 limited., 1894), New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington (1885, 1887, 1889, 1891, 1892 all limited), and Wisconsin.

Quadrennial Enumeration

Beginning in 1803, the state of Ohio enumerated free white males age 21 or older. These individuals were eligible to vote. Similar to other census or enumeration records, they were taken by township. They are organized either in alphabetical order or in the order of visitation. They list the head of the household. Some include the number or names of other eligible voters in the household. In 1800, there was a territorial census that included the names of eligible voters under the names of the heads of households they lived under.

Through the years, the quadrennial enumerations changed to fit the interests of the state government in gathering information on its inhabitants. Beginning in 1863, black males were included. By 1883, the post office addresses and occupations were added. In addition, the enumeration indicated whether the resident was a freeholder or not.

Many of the quadrennial enumeration records that still exist may be found among Ohio's Research Centers. These include the following places:

In the book, State Census Records by Ann S. Lainhart, on pages 91-94, Lainhart discusses the Quadrennial Enumeration records available for the state of Ohio. Looking through the list, the sporadic availability of the enumerations can easily be seen.

Since the publication of Lainhart's book in 1992, an additional county may be added. In 2007, a long-time community member provided the original copies of the Quadrennial Enumerations for 1815, 1819, and 1823 for Wayne County, Ohio. As a joint project between the Wayne County Public Library, Genealogy and Local History Department and the Wayne County Genealogical Society, the digitized images of the Quadrennial Enumerations are available online. The actual images to browse and view may be found on Wayne County (OH) Wiki or through the Wayne County Genealogical Society. There is a separate index for 1815, 1819, and 1823. Each name is linked directly to the image.

Two other Quadrennial Enumerations available include:

Veterans Schedules

In the 1840 U.S. Census, Revolutionary War pensioners were recorded. In addition, several books on pensioners have been published. Some of the books we have in our collection include the following:

The more commonly known Veterans Schedules are the 1890 Special Census of Union Veterans and Widows of Veterans on microfilm and more recently available through Ancestry Library Edition. The microfilm copy includes 118 rolls. Our Department has 2 of the rolls, including the following counties in Ohio:

They are files with the other Ashland County, OH census records on microfilm (Ashland and Cuyahoga) and with the Wayne County, OH census records on microfilm (the other counties listed above).

Although they were compiled for Union Veterans and Widows of Veterans, many Confederate veterans were listed by accident. Each entry shows the name of the Union veteran of the Civil War; name of the widow, if applicable; veteran's rank, company, regiment, or vessel; dates of enlistment and discharge and length or service in years, months, and days; post office address; nature of any disability; and remarks.

Institution Schedules

Federal, State, Local and Private Institutions were listed on separate reels for the 1890 Special Census. We have one reel in our collection. It includes 45 different counties. Some of the institutions include: Wilson Children's Home in Athens County, Columbus Asylum for Insane, Ohio Penitentiary, Ohio State University, Medina County Infirmary, Wayne County Almshouse and the Wayne County Children's Home. There are only two pages for Wayne County. They are near the end of the reel of microfilm.

Agriculture Schedules

The Agricultural schedules are not as commonly known or used by genealogists. The Agricultural Schedule was taken for the years 1840-1910. The schedule for 1890 was destroyed by fire. Those schedules for 1900 and 1910 were destroyed by Congressional order.

In our department, we have the Agricultural Schedule for Wayne County, Ohio for the years 1850 and 1870. These are located on microfilm. The microfilm is found at the end of the Ohio U.S. Censuses on microfilm. Information on both schedules is very similar. The following information is found on the Agricultural Schedule:

  • Name of agent, owner, or manager
  • Acres of land (improves and unimproved); 1870 includes unimproved woodland
  • Present value of farm and farming implements and machinery
  • Live stock (horse, mules/asses, Milch cows, working oxen, other cattle, sheep, swine)
  • Bushels of products (wheat, rye, Indian corn, oats, barley, buckwheat, peas and beans, potatoes [Irish, Sweet])
  • Pounds of products (rice, tobacco, cotton, wool)
  • Dollar value of orchard and produce of market gardens
  • Gallons of wine
  • Pounds of butter and cheese
  • Gallons of milk sold [1870]
  • Tons of hay
  • Bushels of see (clover, grass)
  • Pounds of hops, tons of hemp, pounds of flax, bushels of flax-seed, pounds of silk cocoons
  • Pounds of sugar (maple, cane), gallons of molasses
  • Pounds of wax and honey bees
  • Dollar value of forest products [1870]
  • Value of home manufacturers and animals slaughtered or sold for slaughter

The Agricultural Schedules do not give a lot of genealogy information on an ancestor. It does place a particular individual in a specific location during a specific time. Also, it does give some insight into the type and level of farming done by an individual. They can be useful when distinguishing between people with the same names. Some schedules can verify and document black sharecroppers and white overseers who may not appear in other records. Free black men and their property holdings may be verified, too.

Manufactures Schedules

The first census of manufacturers was taken in 1810. Few exist. The second census of manufacturers was taken in 1820. Information included in the 1820 manufacturers census include: owner's name, location of establishment, number of employees, kind and quantity of machinery, capital invested, articles manufactured, annual production, and general remarks about the business and the demand for its products. Within each state, they are arranged alphabetically by county.

No Manufacturers Schedules were compiled for the 1830 census. The 1840 includes only statistical information.

From 1850-1870, the name was changed to the "Industry Schedule." As given in The Source on page 132, the purpose was to "collect information about manufacturing, mining, fisheries, and mercantile, commercial, and trading businesses with an annual gross product of $500 or more." Information includes: name of the company or the owner; kind of business; amount of capital invested; and the quantity and values of materials, labor, machinery, and products. In 1880, the name reverted back to the "Manufacturers Schedule." However, few exit for 1880. The later years were destroyed by Congressional order.

Our department does not own the Industry/Manufacturers Schedules with the exception of the 1850 which was photocopies and bound in book form. It is located with the other Wayne County, Ohio census abstracts and indexes.

Slave Schedules

Ohio was known as a free state. Slave schedules were not compiled for Ohio.

During the 1850 and 1860 censuses, slaves were enumerated separately. However, individuals were not named. Slaves were numbered and can be distinguished only by age, sex, and color. The owners' names are recorded.

Substitute 1890 Census for Wayne County

Department records

Some census records are digitized:

Other census records available in our department include:

Newspaper Articles


  1. Wooster Daily Republican 22 Dec 1919 p. 8

External links

  • 1940 US Census Images
    Browse the 1940 US Census. Use Steve Morse' One-Step Search to help locate your ancestor in the 1940 US Census. Scroll down this page for the Steve Morse link.
  • Census Aids
    Search site dedicated to simplifying genealogical searches. Contains databases and programs that facilitate doing genealogical research.
  • Fate of the 1890 Federal Census
    Of the decennial population census schedules, perhaps none might have been more critical to studies of immigration, industrialization, westward migration, and characteristics of the general population than the Eleventh Census of the United States, taken in June 1890. United States residents completed millions of detailed questionnaires, yet only a fragment of the general population schedules and an incomplete set of special schedules enumerating Union veterans and widows are available today. Reference sources routinely dismiss the 1890 census records as "destroyed by fire" in 1921. Examination of the records of the Bureau of Census and other federal agencies, however, reveals a far more complex tale. This is a genuine tragedy of records--played out before Congress fully established a National Archives--and eternally anguishing to researchers.
  • Heritage Quest Online
    Using Heritage Quest Online you can search through over 24,000 family and local histories, the Federal Census with images from 1790-1930, PERSI, Revolutionary War records, and the U.S. Serial Set.
  • Soundex Converter
    The Soundex system is the means established by the National Archives to index the U.S. censuses (beginning with 1880). It codes together surnames of the same and similar sounds but of variant spellings. Soundexes are arranged by state, Soundex code of the surname, and given name.
  • US Census Bureau
    The Census Bureau Web Site provides on-line access to census data, publications, and products.
  • Population and non-population schedule forms