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  • Before and Between Census

    Ruby Coleman

    Published Date : February 3, 2006

    The easy accessibility of the decennial census means researchers often forget other enumerations. While many are not easy to locate, particularly on Internet, they are still worth the effort of investigating.

    Before the Decennial Census
    Prior to the existence of the federal government each of the original thirteen colonies had their own censuses or lists that will substitute for census. Some of these early enumerations are extant. As with the decennial census, some have been extracted and published and others are on microfilm, Internet and electronic publications, such as CDs.

    Colonial census records can be found on The thirteen original colonies is represented with the following:

      Maryland - 1776; 1772-1890
      Massachusetts - Boston 1707
      New Jersey - 1772-1890
      Pennsylvania - 1772-1890

      Rhode Island - 1740-1890; 1774; index 1740-1743; 1777 military; 1782 offers a search of Colonial America, 1607-1789 Census Index. This can be accessed through a subscription or purchased on CD. Many of the colonial censuses are available on microfilm at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. Microfilm can be borrowed on loan at Family History Centers. The catalog can be checked at Click on “Place” and enter one of the thirteen original colonies, such as “Virginia.” Scroll down to census.

    There is a rather small, but worthwhile offering of colonial census records and substitutes on Internet. Examples of these include:

    Pre-1790 Colonial Census Records for Connecticut & New Jersey
    New York Colonial Census
    1720 Albany County; 1714 Dutchess County; 1702 Orange
    County; 1689 Ulster County
    Connecticut - Research Guide to Colonial & State Census Records
    at Connecticut State Library (no actual records; good information)

    Territorial Census
    Before statehood, the territorial censuses were usually taken, some in odd years. For example, a territorial census was taken in Iowa in 1836 and 1838. The following territorial census indexes are available on

      Arizona - 1862, 1864, 1866, 1867
      California - 1834 (Santa Barbara)
      Nebraska - 1854, 1855, 1856
      New Mexico - 1850, 1860, 1870, 1890
      Nevada - 1860, 1870
      Iowa - 1838
      Oregon - 1850; 1851-1859 index
      Kansas - 1855
      Washington - 1857-1861
      Mississippi - 1810
    There are also territorial enumerations available on microfilm through the Family History Library,


    There are extracts of some territorial census on Internet. Keep in mind they are extracts. When in question always check the original. The following is a sampling of what can be found:
    1850 Oregon Territorial Census
    1849 Minnesota Territorial Census
    1890 Oklahoma Territory Census Index
    1820 Territory of Michigan

    State Census
    Several states funded and took their own enumerations which were usually between the decennial census years. Because some state censuses were taken between 1880 and 1900, they provide information closer to the time of the missing 1890 US Census. Many of the state enumerations are not indexed. Microfilm for some is available at the Family History Library, however, you need to know the state and county in order to use it. Some state censuses, not the actual image, are available at The following are examples of state census.

      Wisconsin - 1836, 1838, 1842, 1846, 1847, 1855, 1865, 1875, 1885, 1895 and 1905; missing counties

      Rhode Island 1865, 1875, 1885, 1905, 1915, 1925, 1935 names of entire household and statistics

      New York - 1790, 1825, 1835, 1845, 1855, 1865, 1875, 1892, 1902, 1905, 1915, 1925; missing counties for some years

      Iowa 1836, 1838, 1844, 1846, 1847, 1849, 1851, 1852, 1853, 1854, 1856, 1885, 1895, 1905, 1915, 1925; missing counties for some of the earlier years

    A state census was taken in Massachusetts every ten years from 1855 through 1845. Only 1855 and 1865 are extant. This lists all members of the household, plus statistics. In some cases the specific town of birth, particularly if born in Massachusetts, is shown. A database on this web site is People of Color in the Massachusetts State Census, 1855-1865. A very helpful web page regarding the Massachusetts State Census is

    Many of the state censuses have been published in books or periodicals. Check the holdings of state libraries, state archives and genealogical societies. It is also helpful to look for these in the Heritage Quest Online selection of PERSI. This is available on this web page to subscribers. PERSI is the PERiodical Source Index of genealogical and historical periodicals. By entering a place search and “census” in the keywords, along with a state, transcriptions that are in periodicals will be shown. The actual pages from the periodical can be ordered from Allen County Public Library, P.O. Box 2270, Fort Wayne, IN 46801. A form should be filled out with your request for copies, which are made at a nominal fee. The form can be downloaded in PDF format at their web page

    Using a search engine, state censuses can be located on Internet. Keep in mind that these are usually transcriptions. It is best to consult an original or microfilm of the original enumeration. For the New York state censuses the following are helpful web pages:

    New York State Census Microfilm at NY State Library
    New York State Census, 1825, 1835, 1845, 1855, 1865, 1875
    LDS microfilm available
    A search of Internet should also include the USGenWeb project where many researchers are extracting state census data. Begin the search at and click on the state of interest. Under projects or archives there may be a listing of census projects.

    State funded enumerations were taking for state use. Therefore, additional or different questions were asked unlike those normally found on the decennial census. Post-Civil War enumerations often asked about veterans, their health and sometimes their regiment. The 1925 Iowa state census is very large and includes detailed information about the individuals living there. This included the mother’s maiden name, education, nativity of parents, place of marriage, religion and military service.

    Federally Funded State Census
    On 3 March 1879, Congress passed an act providing that any state or territory could conduct an inter-decennial census. Partial funding for this would be provided by the federal government. The only states that conducted such a census were Colorado, Nebraska, Florida, Dakota Territory and New Mexico Territory. Iowa did an enumeration in 1885, but it was not under this act.

    The official census day for this enumeration was 1 June 1885. The enumeration consisted of four schedules which were inhabitants, agriculture, products of industry and mortality. Copies of this federally funded census were returned to the Department of Interior in Washington, DC and the originals were retained by the states or territories.

    Microfilm of federally funded state census can be found in the Family History Library. Some extractions (not images) are being placed on The following is helpful when beginning a search of these enumerations:

      Dakota Territory - 1885
      northern half of territory - State Archives & Historical Research Library in
      Bismarck, ND
      database - - South Dakota Territorial 1885

      Florida - 1885
      state copy - Florida State Archives, Florida State Library
      microfilmed federal copy NARA (M845/13 rolls)
      database -

      New Mexico Territory - 1885
      state copy - State of New Mexico’s State Records Center & Archives,
      Santa Fe, NM
      microfilm federal copy NARA (M846/6 rolls)

      Colorado - 1885
      state copy - Colorado State Archives, Denver, CO
      microfilm federal copy NARA (M158)
      database -

      Nebraska - 1885
      state copy - Nebraska State Historical Society, Lincoln, NE
      federal copy NARA M352/56 rolls)
      database -

    For more information about the federal copies of this unique enumeration, visit the National Archives web page at While the databases may be helpful, keep in mind they not digital images. For the real thing, check out microfilm of the originals, much of which can be obtained through the Family History Library.


    Types of Census
    The following is a synopsis of the types of census available to researchers of American ancestry:
    - colonial census (before the formation of the U.S. government)
    - federal census (taken decennially beginning in 1790)
    - territorial census (taken in territories before they achieved statehood)
    - state census (taken by states with their own funding)
    - state census (taken by select states with partial funding by the U.S.)
    - miscellaneous census such as school, industrial and military censuses

    Suggested Reading List
    The following books are very helpful in furthering your knowledge of census. They can be found in library genealogical collections or obtained on interlibrary loan.

    Dollarhide, William. The Census Book. Bountiful, Utah: Heritage Quest, 1999

    Hinckley, Kathleen W. Your Guide to the Federal Census for genealogists, researchers, and family historians. Cincinnati, Ohio: Betterway Books, 2002.

    Kemp, Thomas Jay. The American Census Handbook. Wilmington, Delaware: Scholarly Resources, Inc., 2001.

    Lainhart, Ann S. State Census Records. Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1992.

    Measuring America: The Decennial Censuses From 1790 to 2000. Washington, DC: US Census Bureau, 2002.

    When it is difficult to fill the gaps, particuarly between census years, always turn to other records. These should include the state or territorial censuses. Your ancestor may be waiting for you to find him on those between census records.

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