Sunday, March 19, 2017

Federal census copies

I am currently mentoring a GenProof Study Group and someone asked an excellent question.  We were talking about how the enumerators made copies of the original forms they had carried from house to house. In some cases you might find the copy that was sent to the state which you can compare to the copy that was sent to the federal government.

The state copies, if they exist, will be in the state archives for that state. When you are looking at a federal census it is difficult to know if you are looking at an original (less likely) or an official copy (more likely). To make things worse, although there was an official number of copies that were required there could have been more (especially true of the 1790-1820). So the question is, why aren’t there state copies of the 1890 federal census which was almost completely destroyed?

I can’t emphasize enough the importance of a good home reference library.

original and two copies

original and one copy

original and two copies

original and abbreviated copy

1890-1930 [and I assume beyond]
original only1

And there’s the answer. The 1890 was the first census where official copies were not made. If by chance the enumerator recopied his portion to make it neater he would have simply destroyed the draft. I highly recommend the below referenced book and make sure you read the entire chapter, “Census Media: Handwritten to Electronic.” What I listed above is only a small excerpt from that chapter.

1Kathleen W. Hinckley, Your Guide to the Federal Census for Genealogists, Researchers, and Family Historians (Cincinnati: Betterway Books, 2002), 108-111.


  1. Excellent information Michele. How unfortunate when talking of the 1890 census. I didn't know about the copies, so thanks.

  2. Technically speaking, these are duplicate originals. The topic came up in the BU genealogical research class as well. I wrote a blog post about it. The post has links to Black's law dictionary and to Elizabeth Shown Mills's Evidence Explained website.

  3. Floyd County, Virginia, kept an abbreviated copy of the 1890 census. It was transcribed and shared online by Barb Reininger.
    Best wishes,