Something to Consider when doing Census Research:

This information came from a genealogy mailing list.  I don't know how true it is, but it is something to consider.  It may explain why some people didn't seem to have been enumerated at all -- perhaps they moved and the census taker didn't think they should be included.

How many of us have failed to read the instructions for searching the census?  I know I've been guilty of just assuming what I see was the truth, and subsequently, may have dismissed some census, especially those in the time period previous to 1850, as not being the correct line, because it didn't fit my preconceived notions of the number of people in that family.  Of course, people being people, these instructions may not have been totally followed by every census taker, but it does help to know about this surprising instruction.

Here are some details about the mechanics of taking a census that most of us probably haven't paid much attention to. Beginning with the 1790 (first) federal census and continuing with every census thereafter, each enabling law authorized by Congress specified a census day for gathering the census information from every household in America. From 1790 to 1820, the census day was the first Monday in August.

The census day was NOT the day the enumerator arrived at a household, it was the day for which all the statistics of the census were collected. The actual instructions given to all the U.S. Marshals right before the 1820 census explains:

"....all the questions refer to the day when the enumeration is to commence; the first Monday in August next. Your assistants will thereby understand that they are to insert in their returns all the persons belonging to the family on the first Monday in August, even those who may be deceased at the time when they take the account; and, on the other hand, that they will not include in it, infants born after that day."

Similar instructions have been given for every census since 1790, but with different census days. Census day for each census, 1790-1920, and the time allowed to take the census:

1790 2 August 9 months
1800 4 August 9 months
1810 6 August 10 months
1820 7 August 13 months
1830 1 June 12 months
1840 1 June 18 months
1850 1 June 5 months
1860 1 June 5 months
1870 1 June 5 months
1880 1 June 1 month
1890 1 June 1 month
1900 1 June 1 month
1910 15 April 1 month
1920 1 January 1 month

Genealogists should record two dates when copying information from the censuses: the census day and the enumeration date. No matter how many months it took for an enumerator to reach a house, he was supposed to gather the information as if time had stopped on the census day. Every person whose regular abode was in a particular household on the census day was to be enumerated, even if a person were away at the time of the enumeration.

Understanding the impact of the census day versus the enumeration date may explain why certain people appear in a census listing, even though you have other evidence to show the person died before the household was enumerated. If a person were alive on the census day, that person was to be included - even if it took some time for the enumerator to get around to the house to take the census. The person could have been dead for several months.

Or, you may wonder why that youngest child in a family was not listed in a census. If a child were born after the census day, that child was not to be included - even if the census taker had visited the house and was aware of a playful little toddler crawling around in front of him.

For example, on the 1880 Census the information was to be as of 1 June 1880. Births before 1 June would be counted; those coming after 1 June would not be counted. People dying before 1 June would not be enumerated but those dying after 1 June would be enumerated. That means if someone died June 2 but the census was not enumerated until 15 September, the person would be enumerated as though he were living.