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Census Tips: 1840 Census

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Map of North Carolina during the 1840 census

Image courtesy of LEARN NC.


The 1840 census began June 1st and ended February 1st of 1841. Information given was as of the census day, not the day of enumeration. In cases like this, the census may have been enumerated on December 1st with an age given as 12, but that age was as of June 1, 1840, so it’s possible there was a birthday between the census day and the date of enumeration.

As in 1830, the 1840 census had a printed form for enumerators to use. Unlike other years, there were no missing census pages for any state. Also, a new state and territory were included: Iowa and the Wisconsin Territory. Although Oregon became a territory by 1840, it was not included.

Information in the 1840 census

Questions in the 1840 census were the same as the previous census: name of the head of the household, age ranges for white males, for white females, for slaves, for free persons of color, for any deaf, asked if any blind, and any and aliens not naturalized.

As with all census records, there are a few issues that may cause trouble finding individuals. The biggest hindrance is spelling of names. Things that can affect spelling include accents and literacy of the enumerator. Some things may seem straight forward like Mayo, but they could still be enumerated as Mayho, Maho, or Mayoh, for example.

Sometimes the writing can be faded, the page torn, or bad handwriting, which make things hard to read. A tip I have for discerning the letters in a hard-to-read name is to compare to other names within a few pages. For example, If you see a name that is new to you, but hard to read that looks like Joker, take a look at how the enumerator forms each letter in the name. You might realize that Joker is actually another name. In this case, the first letter in James and Joseph looked the same;  I compared the -o and -er in Robert and it was very clear that it was -o, but not -er; I couldn’t find a -k to compare, but noticed it looked a lot like n -h. At this point, I had Joh-. I saw an Anna and realized the last letter was an -n giving the name John. This is just one example from my research over the years.

Government and Heritage Library Sources

The Government and Heritage Library has microfilm for all states that were enumerated and published indexes for some states, specifically: Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida Territory, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan Territory, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont, and Virginia and Wisconsin Territory.

Come visit us 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.”


Free printable charts:

National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)

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