The U. S. census has been taken every 10 years since the first one in 1790.
Some important notes:
|1790 - 1840||Lists the name of the head of the family only.|
|1850||First census to list the names of all free persons.|
|1870||First census to name all former enslaved persons.|
|1880||First to identify an individual’s relation to the head of household.|
|1890||All but a few pages of this census were destroyed.|
|1940||The most recent census available.|
|1950||Will be released in April 2022.|
The census taker (or enumerator) went house to house writing down the information he gathered on "population schedules", preprinted forms he was given to fill out. The population schedules were collected into books by county. Years later they were microfilmed and now they have been "digitized" and can be read on computers.
If you know what county your ancestor lived in, find out when a county was formed and from what other counties its territory was taken. For example, Gaston County was formed in 1846 from Lincoln County. Therefore you will have an 1850 census for Gaston County, but for the 1840 census you will have to look at the census for Lincoln County.
Each time the census has been taken, the enumerators have been given a different list of questions to ask. Many books on genealogical research describe what information you can expect to find in each census. Useful references are:
You can find copies of the original handwritten schedules in these databases. Always look at the source.
See North Carolina Census Records Online, for U.S. Census records for North Carolina.
Printed ("transcribed") censuses for Lincoln and Gaston Counties, 1790 - 1890:
|<1790||929.3756 N NCC. State Census of North Carolina, 1784 - 1787.|
|1790||929.3 DEP NCC. The 1790 Federal Census: Morgan District, Lincoln County - Rutherford County.|
|1800||929.3756 DEL NCC. The 1800 Federal Census of Lincoln County, North Carolina.|
|1810||929.3756 DEL NCC. The 1810 Federal Census of Lincoln County, North Carolina.|
|1820|| 929.3 FED NCC. Federal Census of North Carolina, 1820: Vol. 32 Lincoln County.
929.3 DEL NCC. 1820 Federal Census of Lincoln County, North Carolina.
|1830||929.3 DEL NCC. The 1830 Federal Census of Lincoln County, North Carolina.|
|1840||929.3756 DEL NCC. The 1840 Federal Census of Lincoln County, North Carolina.|
|1850|| 929.3 COM NCC. The Complete 1850 Census of Gaston County, North Carolina.
929.3 FED NCC. The 1850 Federal Census of Gaston County, North Carolina.
929.3756 CRO NCC. 1850: Lincoln County Census.
929.3756 CAS NCC. The 1850 Federal Lincoln County, North Carolina Census.
|1860|| 929.3756 EIG NCC. The 1860 Census of Gaston Co., North Carolina.
929.3756 DEL NCC. 1860: Lincoln County Census.
929.3756 DEL NCC. Lincoln County, N. C. 1860 Census. *Not the same census as above.
|1870|| 929.3 BEL NCC. Population Schedule of the Ninth Census of the United States, 1870 Gaston County, North Carolina.
929.3756 DEL NCC. 1870 census of Lincoln County, North Carolina.
|1880|| 929.3756 EIG NCC. 1880 Census Gaston County North Carolina.
929.3756 EIG NCC. 1880 Census Gaston County North Carolina.
929.3756 DEL NCC. The 1880 Federal Census of Lincoln County, North Carolina.
|1890||929.3 GAS NCC. Gaston County's Surviving Eleventh Census of the United States: Population and Social Schedule, 1890, A very small portion of the Gaston County returns survived the destruction of the 1890 census.|
For places other than Gaston and Lincoln Counties, the easiest way to find printed ("transcribed") censuses in this library is to search our Catalog by Keyword for the name of the place plus census.
For example, a keyword search for Cleveland census yields 6 entries for transcribed Cleveland County censuses.
The Federal census takers sometimes had other schedules to fill out besides the population schedules. At different times these included "special" topics such as mortality, agriculture, manufacturing, "social" and slave schedules. For more information, see the National Archives page on Non-population Census Records.
Go to: http://www.archives.gov/research/census/nonpopulation/
Some things you should know:
The Soundex is a coded surname (last name) index based on the way a surname sounds rather than the way it is spelled.
What if you can't find a person through the indexes? Since census takers and indexers do make mistakes, sometimes it is still best to look through a census schedule, page by page.
Before you start reading the census, do everything you can to narrow down where a person lived within a county or large city.
Start with city directories. The Gastonia Main Library has city directories for communities in Gaston County.
Go to: http://gastonlibrary.libguides.com/city-directories
You can also try looking for addresses in old family letters or other primary sources such as death certificates. See the "Vital Records" sections of our guides to Finding Gaston County Ancestors and Finding Lincoln County Ancestors.
Go to: http://gastonlibrary.libguides.com/finding/gaston-county-ancestors
Go to: http://gastonlibrary.libguides.com/finding/lincoln-county-ancestors
Beginning with the 1880 census, each area was divided into "enumeration districts" (EDs). Each census year had different EDs. The term subdivision was used in earlier censuses to refer to part of a supervisor's or marshall's district.
Paper copies of the Gaston County and Lincoln County Enumeration District descriptions are at all libraries in our county.
The National Archives provides digital scans of ED maps.
The National Archives provides digital scans of ED maps.
View Enumeration District Maps for 1940 and 1950 at Census website by Stephen P. Morse, PhD & Joel D. Weintraub, PhD
Go to: https://stevemorse.org/census/arc1940-1950edmaps.html
HeritageQuest has the U.S. Enumeration District Maps and Descriptions, 1940. HeritageQuest is a free genealogy database available through NCLive.org. It can be accessed from any internet-enabled device with a current library card number.
Go to: https://www.nclive.org/cgi-bin/nclsm?rsrc=218
HeritageQuest has the Map Guide to the U.S. Federal Censuses, 1790-1920. Select a State to see how the county boundaries changed with each census year or view the entire United States by decade to see the changes in state boundary lines.
Author: Gaston County Public Library
Title: The United States Census for Genealogists 1790 - 1940
Revised: 5 August 2021
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