Friday, May 13, 2022

On Census Day . . . 1840


What do we know about the efforts that went into producing the United States Census in 1840? On Census Day, June 1, how did the 2,167 enumerators go about their business counting heads in America?

Of course, I have a selfish reason for wanting to know more about Census Day in 1840: I'm wondering just who counts in the household roundup: families? Farmhands? Visiting relatives? Who was included among the eleven individuals counted in the Michael Metzger household in Perry County, Ohio?

According to the FamilySearch wiki, "Federal censuses are usually reliable, depending on the knowledge of the informant and the care of the census enumerator." That may sound reassuring, but it leaves a wide gap, at least in my personal credibility calibrations. The FamilySearch wiki also includes the fact that there was a wide range of people who could be considered qualified informants on a household's entry: not just the head of household, but any member of the residence—or even the neighbors. Not to mention, information provided by the reporting party could have been incorrect, or even deliberately falsified—take, for a much later census example, those women who miraculously aged only six or seven years since the previous decade's enumeration.

The enumeration was to include information on every person in the household on Census Day. If the enumerator, in his official rounds, wasn't able to make it to a particular address on June 1 and, say, fulfilled his duties there on June 3, the information needed to reflect the household's status on Census Day. In such a case, even if a baby was born in that home on June 2, the child should not have been included in the official record. That was the policy for enumerations.

The difficulty with using census readouts before 1850 is that the only name provided for the record was that of the head of household. All other household residents, nameless, were counted by gender and age grouping. For those aged twenty and above, the groupings spanned ten years apiece. Those under the age of twenty were clustered in five-year increments, making estimating identities of children a bit easier when moving from one decade's enumeration to another.

So, how did things appear in the household headed by Michael Metzger in 1840? There were eleven people counted in that Perry County household: seven males and four females. I'd presume Michael himself was the sole occupant of the category listed as "Free White Persons, Male, 50 - 59." Likewise, his wife Apollonia would have fulfilled the requirements to be placed in the corresponding category for females, 50 - 59.

As for the rest of the household, there were three young men between the ages of twenty and twenty nine, as well as one young teenaged boy and two aged five through nine. Among the young women, there was one in the bracket for those in their twenties, and one in each of the two teenager categories. But how can we interpret those younger adults? Were they all children of Michael and Apollonia? Or were any of the twenty-something men married to the late teenaged or twenty-something women? Could any of those young boys have been grandchildren instead of children of Michael and Apollonia?

Once I found that likely candidate for Michael Metzger in the previous record for 1830—under the spelling variation of Meschar—I decided to compare notes. Just as had happened in 1840, June 1 was Census Day in 1830. Life was somewhat different for that earlier enumeration. There were two less states to count in a country of five million less people. Still, the drill was about the same: same listing of head of household only, same gender and age categories to compare. And compare, I did.

To help picture the changes more visually, I created a table to compare the Metzger household's results for both the 1840 and 1830 census. You can easily do this on anything from a computer spreadsheet to a piece of paper; sitting in a coffee shop yesterday morning, I grabbed some scrap paper to sketch out my grid. After loading in all the possible age brackets—Michael and Apollonia had retreated to the 40 - 49 year category—I entered the tick marks in the appropriate categories. Then, to correlate the 1830 people with their possible brackets in the next decade's readout, I used a pen to draw diagonal lines from each individual's position in the table's earlier column to the corresponding column where they had advanced in the 1840 data.

From that exercise, I was able to approximate some guesses about the Metzger household. I now know I need to look for two children born after June 1, 1830, through 1835, and determine exactly who their parents might have been. I also know that, of the three young men listed in the 1830 census—one in each of the age brackets spanning from ten to late twenties—one of the three either left the household and was replaced by a slightly younger man, or the reporting party underestimated the age of the oldest of the three (who should have aged out of the upper category for the 1840 census).

As for my guess that one or more of the young women in the 1840 census could have been wife of one of the young men, unless there were deaths plus marriages replacing any of them, the three girls from the 1830 census appropriately aged into the corresponding brackets for the 1840 census.

All that to say: if these two enumerations represented only the children of Michael and Apollonia, I have quite a bit more work to do to find more than the four I currently have documented. Who were they? And where did they go after the 1840 census?

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