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Census Tips: 1860 Census

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The 1860 census was the eighth federal census. Census day was June 1, 1860. Information collected in 1860 was almost identical to 1850. In the ten years between 1850 and 1860, two new states were created: Minnesota in 1858 and Oregon the following year. There were also several territories in 1860. New Mexico (which included Arizona) and Utah (included parts of Nevada and Colorado) territories were included in 1850. New territories in the 1860 census include the following: Kansas (includes area that became Colorado), Nebraska (includes parts of the area that became Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming), Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma, the enumeration of non-American Indians), and Washington (created when Oregon became a state, included parts of what became Idaho, western Montana and northwest Wyoming). All North Carolina counties that existed in 1860 were enumerated and there are no missing records.

Map of NC showing county borders. Text: North Carolina 1860


1860 Census: Changes

The only change with the 1860 census is asking the value of property. 1850 census asked only the value of real estate, while the 1860 census asked the value of both real estate and personal property. Other than that, the questions are identical to 1850. Categories are (for each individual in the household): name; age as of census day; sex; race; occupation; value of real estate; value of personal estate; birthplace; whether married within the previous year; if attended school within the previous year; if a person over 20 who cannot read or write; if deaf, mute (they use the word dumb), blind, insane, idiotic, pauper, or convict.

Potential Problems

As with all census records, there are a few issues that may cause trouble in finding individuals. One of the biggest problems is with the spelling of names. Things that can affect spelling include accents and literacy of the enumerator. Some things may seem straight forward like Johnson, but they could still be enumerated as Jonson, Joneson, or Joynson. Be sure to check spelling variations.

Sometimes census pages can have faded text, torn pages, or poor handwriting, all of which can make things hard to read. A tip for discerning the unclear writing is to compare each letter (or the hard to read letters) to other known letters within a few pages. Here are examples from page 23B of the Concord, Cabarrus County census. In all of these cases, using educated guesses and comparing handwriting can help us determine the true letters.

In the first examples, the enumerator did not close the vowels A, O, and U; as a result, everything looks like a U. Laura looks like Luuru, Mary looks like Mury, Adam looks like Adum. In Lucy and David, the L and the D look the same because the top curve in D is faded. Another common problem is letters that look similar and hard to decipher. H and W is another common confusion as is W and M. F and T are often confused. For example, the surname Harris looks like Wurris and a Willeford looks like Milleford.

Occupations can also be hard to read for all of the same reasons as names of people. In the example about for the surname Harris. His occupation looks a bit like Wutel Keeper. We already know the “W” in his surname is H and it looks the same as the “W” in Wutel Keeper. We also know the enumerator doesn’t close his A and O completely. Occupation is most likely Hotel Keeper. On the following page, I found an occupation that looked like Layles. I had a feeling it was actually Tayler (incorrect spelling of Tailor). This enumerators beginning T and L look a lot alike, but I could see in comparing to other words beginning with L that this first letter was not an L. I sought out a  T to compare with and had to search a few pages to find a Thomas and the the T in Thomas matched with the first letter of the occupation. I compared the last letter to other words ending in s and ending in r. After comparing unclear letters I did indeed come to the conclusion the word is Tayler. Other records may verify the actual occupation – tax lists, other census years for example.

The Government and Heritage Library has microfilm for all states that were enumerated, specifically: Alabama, Arkansas (includes Indian Territory), California, Connecticut, Dakota Territory,  Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas Territory,  Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska Territory, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico Territory, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah  Territory, Vermont, Virginia, Washington Territory, and Wisconsin. We also have published indexes for many of these states. Come and check it out!

Further Reading

Free printable charts

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