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Genealogy Tip of the Week

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


Census Tips: 1810 Census

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County boundaries of North Carolina during the 1810 census

The third federal census occurred in 1810 with the census day as August 6, 1810. Initially, enumerators were given nine months to complete the census, but that was extended by one month. Categories for ages are exactly the same as the 1800 census. As with earlier censuses, there was no printed forms for enumerators to use.

For North Carolina, the 1810 census is fully intact for all but four counties: Chowan, Greene, New Hanover, and Wake. For those four counties, tax lists within a few years of 1810 would be a good substitute. Chowan County has a 1810 tax list and Wake County has an 1809 tax list. For Greene County and New Hanover County, the tax lists are 1816 and 1815 respectively. It’s not as good of a substitute for the other two counties, but it is better than waiting a full ten years until the next census. Those tax records are located in the State Archives of North Carolina.


How to find the parents of Orphans, Part 1

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One thing genealogists have in common in the search for parents. If your ancestors were orphans, the search may be a bit easier. Once a month for the next few months, I will give you tips on how to find out who the parents were if your ancestors were orphans. (more…)

Tip of the week: deciphering old handwriting

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Understanding handwriting is an important aspect of researching original records. It’s not easy to do as handwriting practices change over the years and centuries.

Sometimes, we stumble upon a hard to read document – hard to read because of handwriting, but other factors may contribute to its being hard to read, such as faded writing, holes in the paper created by acid, or random marks. Early census records are good examples. Often, the text is faded, or the microfilm copy may have darkened areas or scratches as well as seemingly random marks.

My tip for you is to look at the whole document if written by the same person (or the section of the census enumerated by the same person). I like to find “key” words – these are words that I can very easily tell what they are. For example: John, James, Mary, Anne (or variations), Valentine, Zachariah (easy to understand names with uncommon letters are good!). I use those “key” words as reference points. If I get stuck on a name or a word, I look letter by letter and compare to my “key” words.

Recently I saw a name in the census that was hard to read. It looks like Edward…but not exactly. First, I compared the w to others on the same page. I realized it was actually an m. It started to make sense because the “a” did look like a “u” and the “r” in comparison with others was actually an “n,” making the name change from Edward to Edmund.

There are quite a few resources here at the GHL that can help you decipher old handwriting. Feel free to come visit us and look at these resources! If you need assistance with look ups of sources in our library, check out our guidelines for requesting help.


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