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 1820 Census

(c) Linda Haas Davenport (Updated 2007)

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The same rules for taking the census that were applied to the 1790 census were applied to the 1820 census. The US District courts were still the Enumeration Districts and the actual count was under the authority of the U.S. Marshall. Once again a summary of the count, by category, was sent to the President and the original schedules were to be retained by the Court Clerk.

The 1820 Census has caused many a family historian to spend a considerable amount of time hunting a male that didn't exist or to follow the wrong family because of the age breakdown columns. The 1820 census added a column for Males 16-18 years of age. What is not readily apparent to the family historian is that any males listed in this column are also listed in the 16-26 column. The government wanted an idea of the number of males that could qualify for military duty so the additional column for males 16-18 was included on the census form. The instructions for the US Marshals for the 1820 census states: "It will be necessary to remember, that the numbers in the columns of free white males between 16 and 18 ... must not be added to the general aggregates ... the number will be repeated in the column of those between 16-26"

If in doubt about your own family check the total number of persons counted to be sure that the 16-18 column is not included.

The Enumeration Date for the 1820 census was 7 Aug 1820 and 13 months was allowed to complete the census. The first family was recorded on 7 Aug 1820 and the last on 7 Sep 1821. Remember that all persons listed were to be listed as of 7 Aug 1820, no matter when the census taker recorded the family. However, also bear in mind that many people probably couldn't remember who had actually been in their home 13 months before, so the census taker would record the family (as it was remembered) of the 7th of Aug date and then list everyone else he found in the household the day he actually visited. This could have been a neighbor, visiting family, laborers, boarders, etc.

Example of 1820 census schedule

Printed sample of 1820 schedule

A single printed schedule was given to each census taker and they were expected to make their own schedules from it. This census taker used his sample as the first page of his enumeration area.

Example of a normal 1820 census schedule

All of his following scheduled looked like this.

Schedule is broken down as: Location (county, town, etc.), Head of Family. Free White Males Under 10, 10-15, 16-18, 16-25, 26-45, 45 & Over. Free White Females Under 10, 10-15, 16-25, 26-44, 45 & Over. Foreigners not naturalized, number of people in the household engaged in - agriculture, commerce, manufacture. The Slave section was broken down by: Males under 14, 14-25, 26-44, 45 & over, Females under 14, 14-25, 26-44, 45 & over. The Free Colored Persons section has the same breakdown as the Slave section. And a final column of All other persons except Indians not taxed.

As I mentioned above watch the 16-18 and 16-26 columns.

Approximate Birth Year in relation to the age groupings:


Born Between

Under 10










45 & over

1775 & before


The 4th Census of the US - the 1820 Census - is recorded on 142 rolls of microfilm, National Archives Publication # M33. The states covered are; Alabama (partial only), Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee (Nashville District only), Vermont and Virginia. Each state is broken down by counties.

Use any available indexes for help in locating your ancestor's surname. Use your Redbook or Handybook For Genealogist to determine when a county was formed and from which counties.

The government's desire to have additional information gathered during the taking of the census shows up on this census. The number of people engaged in Agriculture, Commerce and Manufacturing appears on this census. There were not yet schedules for each of these categories as they are in later census, but at least it will give you a clue as to the occupation of your ancestor. This in turn will lead you to search for land records, business license in court records, etc. Look at the number of persons engaged in each category. Sometimes the distinction between farming or manufacturing or mining may be a clue that two adult men live in the same household. A separate Manufacturing Schedule was prepared for those who listed their occupation as manufacturing. This schedule reflects the owner's name, location of his establishment, number of employees, kind and quantity of machinery, capital invested, articles manufactured, annual production and general remarks. The surviving schedules have been microfilmed and are found in the National Archives Record Group # 29 on 27 rolls of film.

Although the population was increasing it was not yet so large that you cannot collect the information on your family's surname for an entire county and surrounding counties. For non-common names collect the information for the entire state. Use the age groupings to sort families with the same name into family units. Use these family units for researching tax records, land records, wills, court records, etc.

Remember that when you are actually using the census records for your research you are moving backwards and each move backwards gives you less information. For each of the Census records of 1790-1840 take the household and subtract 10 years from the ages of all members to give you an approximate age to use in the next earlier census. Look at all families with your surname and compare ages to try to locate the household most likely to be yours. Males came of age and many moved out. Many acquired land in the same general area. Females married and left the household. As you move backwards through the census records watch for the addition of these males and loss of females.

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(1) 200 Years of Census Taking: Population and Housing Questions, 1790-1990. Washington, DC: Bureau of the Census, 1989.

(2) Catalogue of 1790-1890 Federal Population Census Data Available Through the Census Microfilm Rental Program; Bureau of the Census, 1992.

(3) List of the Public Acts of Congress, Contained In volume third; Acts of the sixteenth Congress of the United States; Statute 1; 1819-1820;March 17, 1820; Chap. XXIV. Pg 548-553;An Act providing for the fourth Census or enumeration of the Inhabitants of the United States and for other purposes.

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