Sunday, February 15, 2015

Fantastic Find: Census Instructions

[Taking census; National Photo Company Collection, from glass negative taken between 1918 and 1920.
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA]

The United States Census Bureau website has lots of great information but today I want to draw attention to their Census Instructions. Here's the Bureau's introduction:
"The decennial census has always required a large workforce to visit and collect data from households. Between 1790 to 1870, the duty of collecting census data fell upon the U.S. Marshals. A March 3, 1879 act replaced the U.S. Marshals with specially hired and trained census-takers to conduct the 1880 and subsequent censuses.
During the early censuses, U.S. Marshalls received little training or instruction on how to collect census data. In fact, it was not until 1830 that marshals even received printed schedules on which to record households' responses. The marshals often received limited instruction from the census acts passed prior to each census. 
Beginning with the 1880 census, specially hired and trained census-takers replaced the U.S. marshals. Door-to-door census by temporary census-takers was the primary method of conducting the census until the U.S. Census Bureau began mailing questionnaires to households in 1960. 
As more and more households received and returned their questionnaires by mail, the role of census-taker changed. Today, the majority of households are counted by mailed questionnaires. Census-takers visit places frequented by transient households (shelters and soup kitchens, campsites, etc.) and households that do not return their mailed questionnaires (during the "Nonresponse Follow-Up" phase of the census). As a result, the "Instructions to Enumerators" provided here include the congressional acts U.S. marshalls reviewed during the early census, specially-published instructions for door-to-door census, and lastly, guides used for the limited number of personal interviews conducted during nonresponse follow-up operations."
While researching Leah Bixler Groves*, I was puzzled by the entry of "N.G." in Column 19 which lists her occupation in the 1900 Census because she was 87 at the time. 

[ 1900 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2004. Original data: United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Twelfth Census of the United States, 1900. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1900. T623, 1854 rolls.]

And that's what took me to the Census Instructions for that census, where I found this on page 38:
"Nongainful Pursuits.
218. If a person is attending school write 'at school.' No entry in column 19 should be made, however, for a lawyer, merchant, manufacturer, etc., who has retired from practice or business; nor for a wife or daughter living at home and assisting only in the household duties without pay (see paragraph 185); nor for a person too old to work, or a child under 10 years of age not at school." 
So it seems that the census taker, Arthur L. Remley**, wrote "N.G." meaning nongainful even though that column should have been left blank. And by listing her as Mrs. F.G. Groves, Mr Remley wasn't following instructions there either because he should have used her given name instead.

Perhaps you'll find that the Census Instructions can help you answer some questions that may have arisen when you're looking at an ancestor's records.

*Of whom you will learn more tomorrow.
**We know his name because he signed at the top of every page, as per instructions.

© 2015 Copyright, Christine Manczuk, All Rights Reserved.


  1. Love the photo, want the furniture. Very interesting, thanks.

    1. You know, I actually thought of you when I saw the furniture.