More Tales of the Census: Special Schedules

Population was not the only information the United States government was interested in collecting during the decennial federal censuses. Non-population questions were equally important – and for we historians equally interesting! Over the years, these censuses included mortality, social statistics (including real estate value, annual taxes, number of poor, number of schools, etc.), and agricultural schedules.

First, let’s explore the markers census takers used to collect information. Each population census was supposed to be taken to represent an individual’s status on one specific date. For example, for the 1880 census it was to mark June 1, 1880. Even though the census taker may not have arrived at the individual’s house until June 29, 1880; the only information to be recorded was that of the household from June 1st. That meant any deaths, births, or marriages as of June 2nd or after should not have been recorded.

Mortality, social statistics, and agricultural schedules would be meaningless if only one day was recorded, so the government looked at the results for a year’s time. That meant for 1880, if you were required to answer any of these questions you would be answering for the year dating May 31, 1879 through June 1, 1880.

The mortality schedule recorded the deaths during that designated year. This schedule is helpful in areas without official death records from the time period. This census usually included name, age, sex, marital status, state or country where born, month of death, occupation, and cause of death. The mortality schedule was taken in 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1885, 1890, and 1900. Please refer to our previous census article, Tales of the Census, to learn more about the 1890 census and schedules. The individual results for the 1900 mortality schedule were destroyed by order of Congress after statistics were compiled. This leaves 1850 – 1885 records still available for research.

The social statistics schedule of 1850, 1860, and 1870 originally recorded information on an area’s schools, churches, newspapers, poor, prisoners, average wages and more. The last schedule taken in 1880 focused more on individuals referred to as delinquent, defective, and dependent.

The agricultural schedule required extra work from the farmers themselves. Questions for the 1880 agricultural schedule included acres of improved and unimproved land; value of farm, implements, and live stock; and wages of labor and how many weeks labor was hired. Also how much was produced from grass land; cattle; sheep; swine; poultry; barely; cereals; fiber; sugar; potatoes; tobacco; orchards; vineyards; and bees—just to name a few items.

First established in 1850, the agricultural schedule in some form has been taken every decennial federal census since. Currently the individual results for the agricultural schedule is available for research for the years 1850, 1860, 1870, and 1880. Unfortunately 1890 was lost in the fire while 1900 and 1910 were ordered destroyed by Congress after the statistics were compiled. Statistics are available for all agricultural censuses from the 1920s through 2000.

 The Richardson-Sloane Special Collections Center has on microfilm the 1850 – 1880 Agriculture Schedules and the 1870 – 1880 Mortality Schedules. We also have every available Scott County and Iowa population census on microfilm and book form as well. If that doesn’t cover what you need, we also have computers with Ancestry.com as well.

So, if you are interested in knowing if your great-grandparents grew strawberries or if you are searching for a missing ancestor who may have passed away near census time in Scott County, we may be able to help!

(posted by Amy D.)

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