Slave Schedules were used in two U.S. Federal Censuses: The 1850 U.S. Federal Census and the 1860 U.S. Federal Census. Slaves were usually not named, but were enumerated separately and usually only numbered under the slave owner’s name. The National Archives has microfilmed all of the original manuscripts for applicable states.
In most cases, individuals were not named but were simply numbered and can be distinguished only by age, sex, and color. The names of owners are recorded. However, some enumerators listed the given names of slaves, particularly those over one hundred years of age. These names are generally found in the “name of slave owners” column. Other questions asked include whether a fugitive from the state (meaning if the slave had fled and not returned); number manumitted (or freed); whether deaf and dumb, blind, insane, or idiotic; and number of slave houses.
The slave schedule is especially useful for researchers who are seeking information about their slaveholding ancestors. This is because of the specific information it provides about their holdings and other information you can draw from it. For example, the number of slaves enumerated under an owner could help you determine if he had a plantation and its size.
Researching Slave Family Members
Sometimes the listings for large slaveholdings appear to take the form of family groupings. However, in most cases slaves are listed from eldest to youngest with no apparent effort to portray family structure. The slave schedules themselves almost never provide conclusive evidence for the presence of a specific slave in the household or plantation of a particular slaveholder. At best, a census slave schedule can provide supporting evidence for a hypothesis derived from other sources.