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Census Tips: 1820 Census

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Map of North Carolina during the 1820 census

The fourth federal census occurred in 1820 with the census day as August 7, 1820. Thirteen months were allotted.  As with earlier censuses, there was no printed forms for enumerators to use.

The 1820 census is mostly intact, but six counties have lost census records. Those counties are Currituck, Franklin, Martin, Montgomery, Randolph, and Wake. If your ancestor lived in one of those counties, there are possible substitutes that you can use. It should be noted that Currituck has very few records before the mid-1800s. Martin County had a court house fire in 1884 that destroyed many records and Montgomery had a fire in 1835 that also destroyed records. Below are substitutes you can use for these counties mentioned; they have the following records close to 1820:

  • Tax: Franklin, Randolph, Wake
  • Court records (can include Jury lists) Currituck, Franklin, Montgomery, Randolph, Wake
  • Deeds and land records (which include witnesses): Franklin, Martin, Randolph, Wake

Ages for households was expanded from the previous census rolls. All free white males and females were categorized by ages under 10, 10-16, 16-26, 26-45, and over 45. In addition, free white males had an additional category of 16-18. This has created a lot of confusion. The purpose of this additional group was to determine the amount of young men who able to serve in the military based on age. If a person is listed in the 16-18 group, he would also be listed in the 16-26 category. Here is an example of how this can be applied: John Doe has 1 boy 10-16 (ages 10 and under 16), 2 age 16-18, 3 16-26, and himself over 45. What this means is that 2 sons are between the ages of 16-18 and 1 is 19-26 and a total of 4 sons. It’s confusing, but a great way to narrow down the age for free white men.

!820 census was the first to give age estimates for slaves and for free people of color as well as separate by gender. Both slaves and free people of color are broken down to men and woman under age 14, 14-26, 26-45, and over 45. Additional categories include:

  • Foreigners not naturalized
  • Number of persons engaged in agriculture
  • Number of persons engaged in commerce
  • Number of persons engaged in manufacturing
  • All other persons except Indians not taxed

The final group is the least often used category. It could include Native Americans who are taxed as well and indentured servants and apprentices.

The 1820 also has a manufacturing schedule, which is separate from population schedule; however, it was expanded from the original three questions about the type, quality, and value of the goods produced to include the following:

  • Name of owner
  • Location of the business
  • Number of employees
  • Type and quantity of machinery
  • How much of the capital is invested
  • Articles made
  • Annual production

The Government and Heritage Library has reels of the 1820 census, as well as the manufacturing schedule,  for all extant states and counties. Come and check it out!

Further Reading

Dollarhide, William. The Census Book: A Genealogist’s Guide to Federal Census Facts, Schedules, and Indexes. North Salt Lake, UT: Heritage Quest, 2000.

Dollarhide, William. Census Substitutes and State Census Records: An Annotated Bibliography of Published Name Lists for All 50 U.S. States and State Censuses for 37 States. Bountiful, UT: Family Roots Publishing Company, 2008.

“United States Census.”

Hinckley, Kathleen W. Your Guide to the Federal Census for Genealogists, Researchers, and Family Historians. Cincinnati, OH: Betterway Books, 2002.

Leary, Helen F.M. North Carolina Research: Genealogy and Local History. Raleigh, NC: North Carolina Genealogical Society, 1996.

Szucs, Loretto Dennis and Matthew Wright. Finding Answers in U.S. Census Records. Orem, UT: Ancestry, 2002.

Thorndale, William and William Dollarhide. Map Guide to the U.S. Federal Census, 1790-1920. Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1987.

United States Census Bureau. “Through the Decades: Overview.”


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