The census records that really perk our interest are the ones that list every person by name, particularly the United States Census Bureau records enumerated every 10 years, 1850-1930, except for the 1890 census, most of which was lost to fire.
The first three of those censuses include each person’s state or country of birth: 1850, 1860 and 1870.
The confusing part of those records is that they don’t tell us how the members of each household are related, or even whether they are related. Is a woman who is 20 years younger than the head of household his wife, his sister, his daughter, his daughter-in-law, his sister-in-law or none of the above?
By 1880, the census taker was asking that question. At least as important for our purposes, the censuses for 1880, 1900, 1910, 1920 and 1930 also asked each person the birthplaces for both father and mother, as well.
Of course that’s all information we want to corroborate with other sources when possible. I’ve occasionally seen census records that listed the father’s birthplace as the mother’s, and vice versa.
U.S. Census records must be 72 years old before they can become public. That timeline would bring the 1940 census to the public on microfilm at facilities such as the University of Maine’s Fogler Library in Orono by mid-2012. No doubt it also will be available online through the paid database ancestry.com, and at public libraries where patrons can view Ancestry.
I was intrigued to see mention of the 1950 census for “Derry, Maine,” thought to be patterned after the city of Bangor, in Stephen King’s new novel, “11/22/63,” which tells the story of a man who steps back in time to try to prevent the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. In his search for information, the main character is disappointed to find that the 1950 census records for Derry had been ruined by water while being stored in the basement at city hall.
That’s a bit of literary license, but it’s also a nice little plug for census records. Having read the whole book in less than a week, I’m thinking it will be chosen for some book discussion groups. If you could go back and change an event in history, what would it be? How would you do it? Could you pick a world event, a national one, a state event and a local event?
Census records are certainly some of my favorites. If only we had more of them. There were, indeed, U.S. Census records for 1790-1840, but only the head of household was listed by name. Other family members were listed by gender in age categories.
That brings to mind the 1837 Special Census of Hampden, which does list everybody in the household by name. The census was taken for the town in order to distribute surplus revenue that year, with the list compiled by the late Kay Trickey after the slips were found in the town vault in 1978. The listing was augmented with additional information from other sources.
Although Hampden is clearly in Penobscot County, the 1837 Special Census of Hampden is online courtesy of Androscoggin Historical Society at Rootsweb at rootsweb.ancestry.com/~meandrhs/census/maine/hampden/1837.html.
In 1987, the “1855 and 1865 Massachusetts State Censuses” for many towns, transcribed by genealogist Ann Smith Lainhart of Boston, were printed in 28 volumes, which are available at the Maine State Library in Augusta.
“Other” census records online through databases such as ancestry.com include Minnesota Territorial State and Census Records 1849-1905. The information varies according to the year of the census, earlier records naming only the head of household. But records for 1895 are a real treasure, especially when you consider that most of the U.S. Census for 1890 was burned.
On another topic, Dave Rand of Washburn wrote in to share that the 1882 “History of Penobscot County Maine” is online free at archive.org/details/historyofpenobsc00will. He added that his download by pdf wasn’t complete, but he still found the resource useful.
For more information on researching family history in Maine, see Genealogy Resources under Family Ties at bangordailynews.com/browse/family-ties. Send genealogy queries to Family Ties, Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor 04402; or email firstname.lastname@example.org.