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Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center

Census Guide


The federal census is a basic tool for post-Revolutionary War United States research, and is often the first step in identifying information about a newly-discovered ancestor. The census not only provides a statistical cross section for the entire country, it also supplies a family status report at the end of each decade. The Historical Genealogy Department of the Allen County Public Library holds all of the federal population schedules that are currently available, and all statewide indexes and soundexes. This pathfinder is a guide to the use of the census. For additional information, please consult with a staff member.

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Censuses 1790 - 1870

The censuses of the years 1790-1840 are characterized by a lack of definite information about household members. The head of the household is the only name supplied, with other household members enumerated only by age category and sex. Head of household is usually the primary male (the oldest or the main property holder), but can be the primary female (again, the oldest or main property holder), often a widow. Starting with the 1850 census, information more useful to the genealogical researcher began to be gathered. Everyone within the household is named, and information including, but not limited to, age, birthplace, occupation, color, literacy and property values is given. The category headings are often difficult to read on the census sheets. There are several sources which list the various categories by year. One of these sources, Twenty Censuses: Population and Housing Questions, 1790 –1980, is listed in the "Select Finding Aids" section of this pathfinder. Other forms and charts are also available at on various Internet sites including Cyndi’s List ( and Everton Publishers’ website ( as well as at both the Reference Desk and the Microtext Assistance Desk.

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Indexes 1790 - 1870

The Historical Genealogy Department has indexes for all states through 1870. The census book indexes are grouped by year on shelves in the Microtext area. They are not necessarily in order by state within the year. To use these book indexes, locate the year grouping and then the book for the state of interest. The indexes are in alphabetical order by last name of the head of household. Persons with surnames differing from that of the head of household are usually listed separately in the index. After the name, the county abbreviation, page number, and township, district or other minor civil jurisdiction, where applicable, will be given. Proceed to the microtext card catalog and look in the drawer for the appropriate year, state and county to find the census roll number. Census rolls are stored in microtext cabinets by year. If assistance is desired, contact a staff member. The Historical Genealogy Department has only a few county-specific census indexes. These are not located on the browsing shelves with the other indexes. To find them, look in the online catalog under the name of the county. In addition to state indexes, the Historical Genealogy Department has the Accelerated Indexing Systems (A.I.S.) Census Searches. This source indexes censuses and some tax lists for large portions of the United States, which may prove useful if a researcher is unsure of what state to search. There are nine divisions by year and area:

Search 1 . . . .

1600-1819, US

Search 2 . . . .

1820-1829, US

Search 3 . . . .

1830-1839, US

Search 4 . . . .

1840-1849, US

Search 5 . . . .

1850-1860, Southern States

Search 6 . . . .

1850, New England and Northern States

Search 7 . . . .

1850-1906, Mid-West and Western States

Search 7 A . . .

1850-1907, US (incorporates searches 5 through 7)

Search 8 . . . .

Mortality Schedules

These census searches are available on microfiche and are arranged in alphabetical order by surname. They provide a state, county and page number citation for the head of household. It should be noted, however, that this source is several years old and little is included for 1860 and 1870. A significant number of census indexes are available online at U.S. GenWeb sites. In addition to these indexes, increasing numbers of U. S. GenWeb sites are also making digitized copies of actual census sheets available to researchers as well as full census transcriptions. Moreover, large publishers in the genealogical field are mounting both indexes and digital copies of federal census records on their subscription websites. The Historical Genealogy Department provides access to at least one major online genealogy subscription database so that the growing numbers of online indexes and digital census records are available to our patrons. Ask a staff member for assistance in accessing these online resources.

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Censuses 1880 - 1930

The censuses for the years 1880-1930 differ in two ways from the earlier censuses. First, much more information is given in these years, including relationship of each person in the household to the head of household, and the birthplace of the parents of each person. Second, some of the indexing is vastly dissimilar to the earlier years. As with the earlier years, if the column headings across the census pages prove to be unreadable, researchers should consult a staff member for a chart which lists the categories. It should be noted that the census of 1890 was almost entirely destroyed by a fire in Washington. D.C., and is not available. The fragments of that census which do survive are available at this library on five rolls of microfilm. They include a few pages for each of the following states: Alabama, District of Columbia, Georgia, Illinois, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, South Dakota and Texas. This set includes an everyname index on two rolls of microfilm stored with these five rolls. Ask a staff member if assistance is desired. It is important to note as well that directories (geographic, occupational, ethnic, and organizational) can be successfully used as census substitutes. This is particularly true for the 1890 time period. Many cities and rural areas published directories in the late 1880s and early 1890s. These can often be used to locate individuals and families who typically would have been tracked in the 1890 federal census. Used in conjunction with state census records where they exist, city directories can help fill this 1890 census void.

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Indexes 1880 -1930 --Soundex, Miracode, and Online

When indexes exist on microfilm, these censuses are indexed by the soundex system (or miracode for some of the 1910 census). The soundex indexes by the sound of the surname, instead of the spelling, to reduce the problems created by spelling errors on the part of the enumerators and variant spellings used by family members. The first letter of the surname is used with a three-number code representing the next three consonants of the name. The numerical values of the letters are assigned so that letters which sound alike, and therefore could be mistaken for one another, are given the same numerical value. Vowels (a, e, i, o, and u) and vowel-sounding consonants (h, y, and w) are eliminated from the coding process. The letters and their corresponding numbers are:

1 -- b, f, p, v
2 -- c, g, j, k, q, s, x, z
3 -- d, t
4 -- l
5 -- m, n
6 – r

If the name contains more letters than needed, drop the ending letters.
Anderson = Andrsn = A536 (drop the sand n)
VanDuessen = Vndsn = V532 (drop the n)

If there are not enough consonants in the name to form the code, add zeroes to complete it.
Lundy = Lnd = L530
Maas = Ms = M200
Ray = R = R000

It is important to note that when two letters of the same value are together, not separated by a vowel,the second letter is ignored.
Stalling = Stlng = S345
Scott = St = S300
McCoy = Mc = M200

Different names can have the same soundex code number.
Schmidt = Smd = S530
Smith = Smt = S530
Snead = Snd = S530

The soundex and miracode are available on 16mm microfilm in the Microtext area, and may be used on any of the microfilm readers. Once the soundex code number is determined, find the soundex drawers in the microtext catalog for the census year of interest. Select the roll which contains the code number needed for the state being searched. On the film, each family is represented on an index card. The soundex code is in the top left corner of each card. Advance the film to the beginning of the desired code. All surnames within that code will be interfiled in order by first name of the head of household. A researcher may wish to view all cards within a particular code or proceed directly to all cards with a particular first name. It is possible to differentiate between people of the same name by studying the other identifying data on the soundex card: names and ages of other members in the household, birthplaces and county of residence. Persons with a surname differing from that of the head of household will usually be listed separately in the soundex. While a great deal of information is supplied on the soundex card, proceeding to the actual census is advisable. From the soundex card, obtain the name of the county and three of the four numbers in the upper right corner: E.D. (enumeration district), sheet, and line. In the microtext catalog, check the appropriate census year's catalog drawer for the roll number of the state and county. If there is more than one roll indicated for the county, the catalog will list the enumeration districts that appear on each roll. Load the census roll onto a reader and advance to the proper county. On the census, the counties are divided into enumeration districts, which are usually in numerical order within the county. Within the enumeration district, search for the sheet/page and line number desired. The 1880 soundex lists only households with children 10 (ten) years and younger, although everyone is listed on the census itself. It is vital to note that in addition to being indexed by soundex, the 1880 census has been completely transcribed and published online and on CD-ROM by the Genealogical Society of Utah. The online version of this important census can be found at . The CD-ROM version, which offers more robust searching capabilities, can be found under the EResources link on the library’s homepage at The electronic index to the 1880 census on CD-ROM allows for multiple truncation searches as well as searching by neighbors. It is a tremendous research boon for all who use it. There are only two years in this later block of federal census records that are completely indexed by the soundex—the 1900 and 1920 censuses. The soundex indexes for these two census years list all heads of households and those persons living in a household with a surname different from that of the head of household. Some states of the 1910 census are indexed by soundex, and other states are indexed by miracode. Miracode is a slightly different form of soundex. The code numbers are formed in the same way, but the cards are arranged differently. The county is in the upper left corner, and the numbers in the upper right corner represent the volume (which is not needed), enumeration district and visitation number. Locate the census roll in the same way as with soundex, and search for the enumeration district. Within each enumeration district, families are in order by visitation number, the handwritten number closest to the name on the left side of the census sheet. Only twenty-one (21) states were soundexed or miracoded for 1910. They are:









South Carolina








North Carolina




West Virginia

Several additional state indexes for 1910 have recently been published in print or electronic form. There are two sources which may assist the researcher in locating people in states without an index. The Cross Index to Selected City Streets and Enumeration Districts, 1910 is on microfiche, and matches specific enumeration districts to street names and house numbers. This source is available for larger cities only. The Census Enumeration District Descriptors, which is on microfilm, will describe specific areas covered in each enumeration district. An older street map is helpful in using this source. For both of these sources, it is necessary to know the address of the person sought, which may be obtainable from a city directory. The Historical Genealogy Department has city directories for much of the United States, both in book and microtext form.
Only twelve (12) states were soundexed for 1930. They are:


Kentucky (part)*

South Carolina








North Carolina

West Viginia(part)**

* These Kentucky counties are indexed: Bell, Floyd, Harlan, Kenton, Muhlenberg, Perry, and Pike.
**These West Virginia counties are indexed: Fayette, Harrison, Kanawha, Logan, McDowell, Mercer, and Raleigh.

Some of the states for the time period 1880 to 1930 may have book indexes instead of, or in addition to, the soundex or miracode. Increasing numbers of states for these census years also have online indexes available at subscription websites. As an example, a full name index to the 1930 census is available on the Internet at Indeed, the electronic indexes to the 1880 through 1930 censuses will likely be the first choice for most researchers endeavoring to use these records. When using any index, whether print or online, it is important to remember (a) all possible spellings should be considered when searching and (b) no index is perfect—they all contain both errors of commission and errors of omission. Still, most indexes are of great benefit to the savvy researcher.


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Special Schedules

There are several special schedules which were attached to certain years of the Federal census. These are Slave Schedules, Mortality Schedules, Agricultural and Manufacturing Schedules, Defective, Dependent and Delinquent classes, and the Special Census of Union Civil War Veterans and Their Widows. Slave Schedules list slaves in the southern states for the years 1850 and 1860. They are arranged in order by state and county with some states having published indexes to facilitate searching for data about a particular owner. Very little information is supplied beyond the owners' names, and sexes and ages of the slaves, although occasionally the slaves were named. Mortality Schedules list those residents of a county who died during the twelve months prior to the taking of the census. If the census was taken on 1 June 1850, the enumerator would ask who in the household had died between 1 June 1849 and 31 May 1850, and would gather information on name, age, sex, birthplace, occupation and cause of death. With few exceptions, Mortality Schedules survive only for the census years of 1850, 1860, 1870 and 1880. Most are indexed in book form. These indexes are located with other census indexes on shelves in the Microtext area. Others may be indexed on microfiche. This library has the Agriculture and Manufacturing Schedules only for the state of Indiana for the years 1850, 1860, 1870 and 1880. These are arranged by county on microfilm. They are not indexed, although information provided by the population schedule will enable the researcher to locate the desired citation on the agricultural or manufacturing schedules. The schedules for other states may be obtained from the National Archives. Another special schedule entitled Defective, Dependent and Delinquent Classes was only taken in conjunction with the 1880 census. It lists blind, deaf-mute, idiotic, insane, and permanently disabled persons. This census also includes inhabitants in prison. All of these individuals are identified by name and place of residence. These individuals are listed in the regular population census. These special censuses should be consulted when you notice a checkmark in the columns listed on the regular population schedules. The Historical Genealogy Department only has these schedules for Delaware, Illinois, and Indiana. The last special schedule is the 1890 Special Census of Union Civil War Veterans and their Widows. This was meant to list only Union veterans and widows, but occasionally Confederate veterans were included. All the schedules for Alabama through Kansas and approximately half of those for Kentucky counties were destroyed before the remaining schedules were transferred to the National Archives. [The Kentucky counties that are available for the 1890 Special Census are: Adair, Bath, Bell, Boone, Bourbon, Boyd, Boyle, Bracken, Breathitt, Campbell, Carter, Casey, Clark, Clay, Clinton, Cumberland, Elliott, Estill, Fayette, Fleming, Floyd, Franklin, Gallatin, Garrard, Grant, Greenup, Harlan, Harrison, Jackson, Jessamine, Johnson, Kenton, Knott, Knox, Laurel, Lawrence, Lee, Leslie, Letcher, Lewis, Lincoln, Madison, Magoffin, Martin, Mason, Menifee, Montgomery, Morgan, Nicholas, Owen, Owsley, Pendleton, Perry, Pike, Powell, Pulaski, Robertson, Rockcastle, Rowan, Russell, Scott, Wayne, Whitley, Wolfe and Woodford Counties; and certain federal, state, and local institutions throughout the state.] The Kentucky counties listed above as well as the states of Louisiana through Wyoming and the District of Columbia can be found in this special census. Some of these surviving schedules are indexed either in book form or on microfiche. Check the list in the Microtext area to see which states are indexed.

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Other Census

While the federal censuses are the most commonly used population schedules, it is important to remember that some states also took a separate census, often in the middle of the decade (years ending with “5.”) The Historical Genealogy Department holds many of the state censuses. A relatively complete listing of state and territorial census records on microfilm is listed in follows. Please note that schedules may not have survived for every county in a particular state and census year.










1836,38,44,46,47,49,51,52,53,54,56, 59,60,81,85,88,89,91,92,95








1792,1805,08,10,13,16,18,20,22-25,30, 33,37,40,41,45,50,53,60,66










1815,20,25,30,35,40,45,50,55,60,65, 70,75,80,92,1905,1915,1925




1865 (with index),75,85


1856,57,58,60,71,73,74,75,77,78,79, 80,81,83,84,85,87,89,91,92,98



For the most up to date list of state censuses in microtext form, check the microtext catalog drawer labeled "State Census" for state, county and year. Most of the state censuses on microtext are not indexed. Searchers also will want to check the online catalog under the name of the county for state censuses in book form. Periodicals also may list census material, including federal, state and town incorporation censuses. The PERiodical Source Index is an invaluable source for locating these articles.

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Select Finding Aids

Bourne, Delia Cothrun. “Federal Census Research: Guidelines and Hints.” Indiana Genealogist, v. 5,no. 1, March 1994. Fort Wayne, IN: Indiana Genealogical Society. 1994. /Gc 977.2 In 2015 /

Burroughs, Tony. “The Original Soundex Instructions.” National Genealogical Society Quarterly, v.89, n. 4, December 2001. /Gc 929 N218n/

Else, Willis I. The Complete Soundex Guide: Discovering the Rules Used by the Census Bureau andthe Immigration and Naturalization Service When These Organizations Indexed Federal Records. Apollo, PA: Closson Press, 2002. /Gc 929 EL76c/

Jackson, Ronald Vern and Hazel M. Ahl. United States Federal Census Place Enrollment....Schedules 1790 -1830. Salt Lake City. UT: 1991. /Gc 929.11 J13u v.l/

Kemp, Thomas Jay. The 1930 Census: A Reference and Research Guide. North Salt Lake, UT: HeritageQuest, 2002. /Gc 929 K32ni/ Useful maps and finding aids not found other guides.

Kirkham, E. Kay. A Handy Guide to Record-Searching in the Larger Cities of the United States.Logan. UT: Everton Publishers. Inc., 1974. /Gc 929 K63h/ Lainhart, Ann S. State Census Records. Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1992. /Gc 929 L14s/

Smith, Leonard H., Jr. United States Census Key 1850, 1860, 1870. Clearwater, FL: Owl Books,1986. /Gc 929 Sm6u/ Szucs, Loretto Dennis and Matthew Wright. Finding Answers in U.S. Census Records. Orem, UT: Ancestry Publishing, 2001. /Gc 929 Sz71fi/

Thorndale, William and William Dollarhide. Map Guide to the U. S. Federal Census 1790 -1920. Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1987. /Gc 973.003 T39ma/

Twenty Censuses: Population and Housing Questions, 1790 -1980. Washington, D.C.: United States Department of Commerce, 1979. /Gc 321.0973 Un3t/

Warren, Jim. Minnesota 1900 Census Mortality Schedule. St. Paul, MN: Warren Research & Marketing, 1992. /Gc 977.6 W24m/

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