(from Ancestry Daily News - Ancestry.com)
Donn Devine, CG, CGI
Census schedules are often the first source consulted
by the new family history enthusiast, once family sources and available
vital records have been exhausted. For the last century or more,
the censuses in most countries list every person by name and age,
arranged in household groups, and usually giving the occupation,
relationship to the household head (in the U.S., starting in 1880),
and other valuable family information.
Extensive guidance on use of the U.S. census was
provided by Dr. Roseann Hogan in three earlier "Research Cornerstones"
columns, which also covered the early censuses (1790-1840) where
only the household head was listed by name, and the number of people
in the household was given in age brackets by sex, color, and status.
(See also Linda Herrick Swisher's article "Sensible Use of
the Census," in this issue, on page 10.)
Why, then would someone turn to a census substitute?
Typically it would be because of the unavailability of a census:
some are missing, such as the 1790 returns for several states; some
were destroyed, such as most of the population schedules of the
1890 U.S. census. Census substitutes are also used to fill in between
census years (which usually occur at 10-year intervals), or to provide
information not included in a census.
In deciding how useful a record might be as a substitute
or supplement for a census, the following questions should be considered.
What was the original purpose of the record? How extensive or inclusive
was the list intended to be? (The more inclusive and extensive the
list, the more satisfactory it will be.) What groups of people and
data about them should have been included, and does it actually
appear? (Laws and regulations prescribed what should have been recorded,
but compilers sometimes fell short, or occasionally went beyond
the minimum requirements.) What groups and information were deliberately
excluded (like age on tax assessment rolls), and so will not appear
in the substitute? With these considerations in mind, almost any
list of individuals made at the appropriate time may be useful as
a census substitute. The following sources identify household heads,
and can substitute for censuses that name no one else.
Tax Assessment Records
Tax assessment records are the most frequently used census substitute
for the period during which the census recorded only household heads.
In rural areas where farm ownership was the pattern, property assessment
lists tend to include most household heads who would normally appear
in the census population schedules. If the assessment roll includes
assessments on individuals-poll or head taxes, for example-names
may appear for adult male members of a household who would not be
listed in the census. In the accompanying illustration, tenants
of properties owned by a taxpayer are named, although they would
be very difficult to find without some clue to the landlord's identity.
Tax Collection Records
Tax collection records are usually not quite as good as assessment
lists because the non-taxpayers aren't listed.
Militia Enrollment Lists
Militia enrollment lists, which should include every free white
male in a district who was at least 18 but not over 45, will list
more males than appear as household heads in the census. Enrollment
was mandatory, and local companies were primarily training organizations.
The members were divided by lot into classes which could be drafted
for active service in a sufficient number to meet assigned local
quotas. Unlike today's voluntary militia service in the National
Guard, militia enrollment provided for universal, though minimal,
military training in each locality, and for the order of calling
members for involuntary service to repel invasion or enforce laws.
It was replaced by the Civil War draft and the World War I, and
later Selective Service System, registration.
Birth records in some New England towns are arranged by family group,
often listing children born elsewhere before the family moved to
the town. Church records may also be arranged in similar fashion.
A register called Status Animarum, "State of Souls," arranged
by family group, was maintained in European Catholic churches, and
showed for each person his or her age or birth date and receipt
of sacraments, including baptism, confirmation, annual communion,
and marriages and remarriages. When found in the United States,
these registers are usually in ethnic parishes whose priests came
from continental Europe, particularly Germany.
Voter Registration and Poll Lists
Voter registration and poll lists will contain many adult males,
and since 1920 (earlier in some states), females. Local restrictions
on voting will determine the inclusiveness of the list. Some jurisdictions
had property or poll tax requirements. Slaves could not vote, nor
could indentured servants or apprentices in some jurisdictions.
Voting by fee blacks varied by state, even after the 14th and 15th
Amendments guaranteed that right to all citizens. Native Americans
living on reservations could not vote until granted citizenship
Juror lists are another source which may include large numbers of
household heads who would be listed in the census. However, they
usually represent a selection from the whole number of eligible
persons, so would be less complete than militia enrollments or voter
There are no completely satisfactory substitutes for modern every-name
census schedules, but there are many systems of records and databases
that come close. Unfortunately, many of them, especially for the
past half-century or so, are not readily accessible because of privacy
or confidentiality concerns. Perhaps the most readily available
substitutes in urban areas are city directories. Directories began
to be published in larger cities before the mid-1800s and continued
until shortly before World War II. They exist for most smaller cities
from the late 1800s to the 1970s and 1980s, with expansion to cover
much of the post-World War II suburban development. From the late
19th century, most include name and occupation of household head,
name of wife, and separate listings for adult or working children
beginning at about age 16 to 18. (See also Curt Witcher's article
"Using Directories for Genealogical Research," in this
issue, on page 30.)
Rural Directory Compilations
Rural coverage is more spotty. Some county and a few state-wide
directory compilations will be found, and in the early 1900s the
magazine Farm Journal compiled rural county directories by listing
rural delivery and box holders of rural post offices (with asterisks
for the large number who were also subscribers to the magazine).
Service Registration Records
The National Archives has Selective Service registration records
for World War I (males from 18 to 45), held at the Archives' Atlanta
Georgia branch, and for World War II (males from 18 to 60), but
data from the latter about health, civilian earnings, court records,
or prior military service will not be released.
Social Security Card Applications
Considerable census-type information appears on the Social Security
card application (the original handwritten form, not as copied into
the system's database), completed by applicants for a social security
number. Copies can be obtained from Social Security under a Freedom
of Information Act request, but only if proof of the cardholder's
death is furnished with the request (and which may be obtainable,
together with the Social Security number, from the Social Security
Death Index, now widely available on CD-ROM disks).
State Driver License and Vehicle Registration Files
Finally, state driver license and vehicle registration files contain
census-type information such as age and Social Security number,
occupation, and residence. However, access to this information is
becoming increasingly restricted because of its use by criminals
in highly publicized "stalking" cases.
Considerations for Using a Census Substitute
1. What was its purpose?
2. How extensive and inclusive was its basis?
3. Who and what was supposed to be included?
4. Who and what was omitted?