Census Substitutes

You may know that some of the US Federal census records have not survived to the present day. The 1890 census is the most famous example, but there are other earlier records for various states that are also not available. What alternatives do you have for finding information on your ancestors from a specific time period if the census records for their location do not exist?

There a number of different sources available for finding this kind of information:

  • State Censuses—State census records, where available, can provide information on your ancestors for the years between federal census records. They were usually taken every ten years—like the federal census—but usually at the midpoint between census years, i.e., 1885. You can find a variety of information in these records; they were sometimes designed to collect specific data relevant to the needs of the community for revenue assessment and urban planning.
  • Tax Assessment lists—Tax assessment lists are a source commonly used for locate information on individuals between census years. Usually they provide the names of the head of household—like the pre-1850 federal census records—but sometimes the names of men (of legal age) are listed even though they may have no taxable property. These records will show an individual’s level of wealth and provide a year-to-year location for that individual. They may also help to narrow down a marriage date or death date for an individual. A reference to an individual as a freeman one year, but not the next year may indicate a marriage sometime between assessments. Additionally, I’ve seen reference to an individual one year and to their estate the next, helping to narrow down a death date when other records were unavailable.
  • City Directories—City directories are the precursor to our modern day telephone books. These records will help determine the location of your ancestor’s residence in years between the census enumerations, helping to determine whether or not they moved. Sometimes a move—even within the same city—can make it more difficult to locate them in the next census enumeration. Additionally, some city directories will even list occupation which may help you to discern who is your ancestor.

Other sources to check might be militia enrollment lists, voter or poll registration list, or juror lists. Ancestry.com, Footnote.com and the country websites online are valuable resources for finding this type of information.

For more information, check out this article on census substitutes from Rootsweb.

What do you think?


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, "Census Substitutes," A Pennsylvania Dutch Genealogy, the genealogy & family research site of Kris Hocker, modified 10 Feb 2010 (http://www.krishocker.com/census-substitutes/ : accessed 22 Jan 2018).

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