Kentucky Census Records–A Gift to your Genealogy

To a genealogist, nothing is more important than records.Records which give us a glimpse into the past. Records which specifically name the ancestors you are seeking. Records which provide direct statements of relationship for those same ancestors. Records which leave no doubt in your mind that the names on your pedigree charts are correct.

These records you depend on change. Have you noticed? The census began naming heads of households only with all others in the household tabulated as numbers or slashes by column in categories, set by legislative act. Then every person in the household was named with ages and places of residence.  Particular categories requested by insurance companies and other special interest or lobby groups were added, like “married within the year” or “died within the previous 12 months.”

Interesting census questions answered include: Do you have indoor plumbing? Do you own a radio? What language do you speak? And how many children were born to this mother?

Finally, modern families drew different schedules—some a long-form questionnaire. Most got the short form–because the data supplied would provide statistics only–and the population count was the most important element, because the count was required by the United States Constitution.

The address bar was pre-coded to accept certain kinds of addresses only. My local address, with East-West coordinates, did not fit. And when it came to rural locations without street numbers and often without street names–what a mess! Imagine the enumerator delivering the census form to the “first white barn on the left side of the gravel road just over the canal.”  Sounds like the directions on my son’s newspaper route.

States were given permission and even encouraged to take their own census enumerations during the interim years between federal censuses.  Kentucky was one of the states that took local censuses using local tax assessors and collectors to gather the data. To save money, Kentucky used federal marshals and took their census, along with the federal enumeration–1830, 1840, 1850, 1860, and 1870. 

These incredible enumerations are found among the tax rolls in county courthouses. They enumerate, by name, heads of household. They identify households where sons or daughters were married within the year—sometimes by name. They list all of the agricultural produce and the livestock on each farm. They identify mercantile and manufacturing households. By 1860, the whole schedule was extensive, requiring three pages!

Kentucky’s gift to your genealogy: If you have Kentucky ancestry and you have not yet searched these local census records, don’t be content with abstracted and printed versions at your genealogy library. Don’t settle for one line when you can have three pages of data for each person enumerated!

Your favorite Kentucky genealogist, Arlene Eakle

PS By-passing record loss with early census data embedded in tax lists is truly a Gift to your Genealogy!

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