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Census Enumeration Date or Census Day

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  • Kyle Elwood
    Hi list members. Some of you may not know this....I didn t until just recently. This information may solve some problems and create others. Sincerely, Kyle
    Message 1 of 2 , Dec 1, 2004
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      Hi list members.   Some of you may not know this....I didn't until just recently.  This information may solve some problems and create others.  Sincerely, Kyle Elwood List Moderator


      The Census Daybill.jpg

      If you are a genealogist, you are an avid user of the federal censuses, 1790-1920. But even experienced census users may not know about some of the obscure aspects of the censuses. Here’s one of them. It’s called the "census day."

      Beginning with the 1790 federal census – continuing with every census thereafter – each enabling law authorized by Congress specified a census day for gathering the census information from every household in America. From 1790 to 1820, the census day was the first Monday in August.

      The census day was NOT the day the enumerator arrived at a household, it was the day for which all the statistics of the census were collected. The actual instructions given to all the U.S. Marshals right before the 1820 census explains:

        "....all the questions refer to the day when the enumeration is to commence; the first Monday in August next. Your assistants will thereby understand that they are to insert in their returns all the persons belonging to the family on the first Monday in August, even those who may be deceased at the time when they take the account; and, on the other hand, that they will not include in it, infants born after that day."

      Similar instructions have been given for every census since 1790, but with different census days. The table below shows the census day for each census, 1790-1920, and the time allowed to take the census:

      1820 and 1830 Census Day Differences
      On the above table, note that the census day changed from the first Monday in August in 1820 to the first day of June in 1830. If one is researching families appearing in the 1820 and 1830 censuses, looking at these families again may be important. Since the census days for 1820 and 1830 are not exactly ten years apart, the two-month difference may reveal some surprising results.

      For example, if a person were born between 1 June 1820 and 7 August 1820, that child would appear in the 1820 census in the "under 10" category. But in 1830, that same person would appear in the "of 5 and under 10" rather than the "of 10 and under 15" category, since the person had not turned 10 yet.

      The age category for anyone born between 1 June and 7 August in any year would be affected by this reporting change between 1820 and 1830. Comparing the 1820 age categories for a person appearing ten years later and not in the "correct" age category may actually give a clue to a person's date of birth within a two-month period.

      Time Allowed to Take a Census
      On the table above, note the time allowed to take each census. All of the states complied with this provision, except South Carolina in 1790. South Carolina could not complete its 1790 enumeration in nine months. The U.S. Marshal complained that he was having great difficulty finding people to take the job because of the resistance to the census being taken. A Charleston jury met to decide the fate of six persons who had "refused to render an account of persons in their households as required by the census act." A South Carolina census taker was brought on trial for neglect of duty. He did not complete the census in his district. These and other problems led to South Carolina being granted an extension and the census returns were dated 5 February 1792, a full eighteen months after the census day.

      Differing Census Days
      In a couple of cases, there have been census days assigned to certain states that were different than the rest of the U.S. for that year. When Vermont entered the Union as the 14th state in 1791, the 1790 census was already underway. Vermont’s 1790 census was taken with a census day of the first Monday in April 1791, with five months allowed to take the census there.

      And Utah, which became a territory in September 1851 had its 1850 census taken with a census day of 1 April 1851. But the dates on the Utah census pages are mostly in October 1851. Thus, the 1851 census enumerators probably asked Utahns questions like, "Six months ago, back on April 1st, who was the head of this household?"

      Census Day vs Enumeration Date
      Genealogists should record two dates when copying information from the censuses: the census day and the enumeration date. No matter how many months it took for an enumerator to reach a house, he was supposed to gather the information as if time had stopped on the census day. Every person whose regular abode was in a particular household on the census day was to be enumerated, even if a person were away at the time of the enumeration.

      Understanding the impact of the census day versus the enumeration date may explain why certain people appear in a census listing, even though you have other evidence to show the person died before the household was enumerated. If a person were alive on the census day, that person was to be included – even if it took some time for the enumerator to get around to the house to take the census. The person could have been dead for several months.

      Or, you may wonder why that youngest child in a family was not listed in a census. If a child were born after the census day, that child was not to be included – even if the census taker had visited the house and was aware of a playful little toddler crawling around in front of him.

      Now, some of you will have to go back to all of those census lists you have copied down and confirm the date of enumeration AND the census day. Any missing people? Any extra people?

      Good census hunting!

    • Ron & Kathy
      Hi Cousins, As an added piece of information to the article The Census Day . I am the president of the not-for-profit on-line census project called the
      Message 2 of 2 , Dec 1, 2004
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        Hi Cousins,
        As an added piece of information to the article "The Census Day".
        I am the president of the not-for-profit on-line census project called
        the USGenWeb Census Project.  I have served as the Project
        Coordinator for nearly 6 years.
        We are working feverishly to transcribe the census records for
        "Free" on-line research.  Many of you may already use the records
        and others may still use the libraries and Archives services.  We
        do not have every record on-line yet, but the amount of data that is
        already uploaded is extensive.  In fact we are the largest on-line
        transcription project on the web, and growing daily.
        The address to the census project is http://www.us-census.org
        Feel free to stop by and see if the data you need is available yet.
        If you have extra time in your schedule you might like to volunteer
        to transcribe your area of research, for the use of others. 
        Check out the help pages as well.  There is a lot of information on
        how to read the data, including the various handwriting.
        Ron Eason
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