Many of our ancestors earned their livelihood for generations on a family farm. Details about farming operations in the United States are contained in the Federal Agricultural Schedules. During the censuses of 1850, 1860, and 1870, certain agricultural information was collected from each farm:
- name of owner or manager
- number of improved and unimproved acres
- cash value of the farm
- farming machinery
- animals slaughtered during the past year
- homemade manufactures
- number of horses, mules, “milch cows,” working oxen, other cattle, sheep, and swine
- type and amount of crops produced during preceding year
The 1880-1910 schedules expanded the information collected to include how much acreage is assigned to each crop, poultry owned, and eggs produced.
One insight that can be gained in family history research is the existence of “sideline businesses” operated by a farm that would not be included in the agricultural schedule. Examples of sideline businesses include tanning, milling, coopering, or cheese making. Researchers should consult both Agricultural and Manufacturers Schedules to identify family industries.
Research Tips for Agriculture Schedules
Agriculture censuses can be used in the following ways:
- to fill gaps when land and tax records are missing or incomplete
- to distinguish between people with the same names
- to document land holdings of ancestors with suitable follow-up in deeds, mortgages, tax rolls, and probate inventories
- to verify and document black sharecroppers and white overseers who may not appear in other record
- to identify free black men and their property holdings; and to trace their movements and economic growth.
Farms Not Included
Agricultural schedules did not include every farm in the United States. Farms producing less than $100 worth of products annually were excluded in 1850. Additional agricultural operations were excluded in 1870, when farms owning less than three acres or producing less than $500 worth of products were eliminated from the schedule.
Where to Find Agricultural Schedules
Agriculture schedules are scattered among a variety of archives in which they were deposited by the National Archives and Records Service. Most are not indexed, and only a few had been microfilmed until recently, when the National Archives asked that copies be returned for historical research. The schedules for 1890 were destroyed by fire, and those for 1900 and 1910 were destroyed by Congressional order.