Overview of the 1850 Census
The census information for 1850 was not taken until October or November of that year. Some enumerators finished taking their censuses sooner or later than others. Therefore, the government insisted that any children born after June 1 not be recorded on the census. However, anyone who died after June 1 of that year was to be included.
The census for 1850 included information on agriculture, industry data, mortality and more. It covered both free people and slaves. Some of the questions on the census included real estate ownership, schooling, marriage, age, color, sex, birth territory or country and literacy level. It also asked for listings of all those who were deaf, mute, blind, or mentally unstable, with separate listings for “insane” and “idiotic.”
Unique Features of the 1850 Census
Detailed and Protected Data – 1850 was the first year that each of the census enumerators was given the same set of printed instructions. That is one reason why the 1850 census is considered to be the “first modern census” taken in the United States. The instructions explained the reason for asking each question on the census, which eliminated a lot of the confusion and non-uniform answers between states and territories. The information was better protected and preserved because it required three copies of the information, each to be sent to a different place.
Birthplaces – Birthplaces were included in 1850, allowing family migration routes to be officially tracked for the first time in US history. The result is that the 1850 census is one of the most valuable resources for genealogists. Very few states recorded birth and death records officially back in 1850. However, there were privately kept records, such as those kept by religious institutions. It is possible to use information in the 1850 census in order to locate other records that may have relevant records and facts.
Historical Considerations of the 1850 Census
Native Americans – The Native American population was listed in the 1850 census, referred to as “Indians.” However, Native Americans living on unsettled tracts of land or on government reservations were not listed. The addition of “Indians not in tribal relations” to the count was meant to help determine the number of representatives that each state or territory received.
Slave Information – The slave listings in the 1850 census were also more detailed than the listings in previous censuses. For example, the 1850 census has listings for manumitted slaves (slaves who were released and became free). The names of the slaves were not listed, but their sexes, ages and mental and physical health characteristics were listed. Each slave’s owner was also listed, allowing a slave to be tracked based on the slaveholder’s information.
States Covered in the 1850 Census
As the country grew, the number of states and territories covered increased. If you are using the 1850 census to do genealogy research, you will have access to information covering 36 different areas.
The states covered are: Alabama, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota Territory, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico Territory, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon Territory, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah Territory, Vermont, Virginia, Wisconsin
1850 Census Resources
Visit the following resources for more help with your genealogical research: