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Researching the 1790-1840 Censuses

Updated on April 4, 2017

Previous Articles on Census by me

If you have not had time to read over the two previous census articles I have published, please take time to do so now. One article is on the general information of how to get started in Family Search and how to use the Family Search online versions. The second article details what you can find in the 1940 to 1850 census.

This article focuses on the 1790 to 1840 Heads of Household census for the United States, along with a working example using one of my families of how to extract information to continue your research by using these earlier census records.

As you will see, each of the earlier census will give you basic information such as the location and who the head of the household was, but otherwise none of the other residents were named. This does not mean you cannot identify them in other ways. It just takes time to put together the families. Again, it is important that you LOOK at the image itself after you have found the indexed information in

One of the Most Important Parts

One of the most important parts of this set of census is at the TOP of the page. It includes the date the survey was taken and the location of the person you are researching. Always, ALWAYS, A-L-W-A-Y-S… write this information down with your other information… and write it down first. And it doesn’t hurt to put down the facility you were in or where you found it online. You want to be able to exactly duplicate your work. This is called DOCUMENTING your research.

Using is a quick and easy way to do census research. Like I have said numerous times before, you need to LOOK at the image too, not just the transcribed or indexed information. Not every word was indexed on FamilySearch and the volunteers did make mistakes. We are all human, so do your own research… just in case.

And just as an aside: become a index volunteer and learn just how hard it is to index. There are millions of records out there that need indexing. Do your bit for genealogy if it is only 10 records a month... That equates out to be only ten names a month.

You will see as we “back-tract” you will get less and less information. Basically you only get the name of the Head of the Household, a numerical listing of the males, females, free colored, slaves, foreigners, and all others. These columns were taken directly from the census itself. The “free white” males and females were broken down into specific age groups with less emphasis on the separation of ages as you retreat.

And again, take into consideration the following: the spelling does not count (go phonics), who gave the information (family member or next door neighbor or last person the census taker talked to before the river came up and the census taker just gave up, made up something, and went home!), also what kind of condition they were in (drunk or sober), the language they spoke (not every spoke English and the census taker sometimes had to guess at what they were saying!) And don’t forget: PEOPLE LIED, people hid the truth, people were running from the law, from family, from responsibility, from the aftermath of war, etc.

While the earlier census does not give an exact age or date of birth, it does give you enough information to gave you a chance to tract a person from one census to the next. There was a military census taken each time and you can use this information to help place extended family members.

The column “foreigners” may give you a time table for when family immigrated after 1777. Not always, but sometimes, many of the “not oldest son” emigrated (left home county) for a better life as the oldest son inherited the entire homestead which left no land or occupation for the other males in the family a way to support their wives and children. Just something to think about.

Columns on the 1830 – 1840 Censuses

Both the 1830 and 1840 census asked for:
Head of Family; Free white males ages: under 5, 5-10, 10-15, 15-20, 20-30, 30-40, 40-50, 50-60, 60-70, 70-80, 80-90, 90-100, over 100;
Free white females ages: under 5, 5-10, 10-15, 15-20, 20-30, 30-40, 40-50, 50-60, 60-70, 70-80, 80-90, 90-100, over 100;
Free colored; and
Foreigners not naturalized

Columns on the 1820 Census

Notice the additional columns that ask about income producing lifestyle. (Tax time!)

The 1820 census had the following columns:
Head of Family;
Free white males: Under 10, 10-16, 16-18, 16-26, 26-45, and 45 and over;
Free white females: Under 10, 10-16, 16-26, 26-45, and 45 and over;
Foreigners not naturalized;
Free colored;

Columns on the 1800 – 1810 Censuses

The 1800 and the 1810 census basically used the same census form. Columns consisted of:
Head of family;
Free white males: under 10, 10-16, 16-26, 25-45, and 45 and over;
Free white females: under 10, 10-16, 16-26, 26-45, and 45 and over;
All others;

Columns on the 1790 Census

The 1790 census was the first United States population census after the Revolutionary War or War of Independence. The United States needed to know how many people was actually part of the newly formed nation.

Basically the questions asked consisted of: Head of the Household; How many free white males: age 16 & up including the head of families (who can fight in a war!) and Males under the age of 16; free white females including the head of family; All other persons; Slaves

You also need to know that the only “states” listed as on the 1790 census were: Vermont, New Hampshire, Main, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. There were a total of about 3.8 million persons listed in the 1790 census including men, women, children, slaves and other free white individuals.

Census Forms

There are free census forms online you can copy and print to help you collect and organize your information.

To print free copies of the forms to help you copy your research please go to

Researching My Family

Starting with the research I did on my Lacey family from using the 1940 back to the 1850 census, reinforcing it with courthouse research, bible records, and family stores…

ME >
my father “Kenneth” >
my father’s mother “Mollie” >
my father’s mother’s father “George”>
my father’s mother’s father’s mother! Sarah Lacey

According to census records and bible records, Sarah Lacey was born 1826, Fayette County, Alabama. Sarah Lacey married Charles “Draton” Deen (also spelled Dean) about 1845 in Alabama. They have eleven documented children. If you research the 1850 and 1860 census for Sarah and Draton Deen you will notice there is missing child that according to some of the handed down family stories “fell from the wagon and was killed by the wagon wheel running over his head, said child being buried on the trail.” Sarah’s son, William P. Dean was only a month old in the 1850 census and cannot be found at any other time. So I have placed him as the child, dying at about age five years.

She was the daughter of James Lacey and his wife Hettie Fields. We have a copy of Capt. James Lacey’s bible records. We know the family was in Fayette County, Alabama in the 1850 census and in 1860 Winn Parish, Louisiana census. According to family and backed up by census and bible records, James Lacey died shortly before the rest of the family joined the wagon train headed for free land in Louisiana.

1850 Indexed version of FamilySearch

Taking a look the Indexed version to the image itself: 1850

Since we have found and documented my ancestor back to James Lacey, we will start working on his family starting with the 1850 census, found in Fayette County, Alabama. When using FamilySearch “search” feature there are several things we need to do for the search engine to work correctly duplicate my search:

Name: James Lacey
Born: South Carolina, 1788
Limit search to: United States, Alabama for this first search -- NO RESULTS

Reenter search engine data using the name James Stacey, born South Caroline 1780-1790.

ONLY because I had already spent hours poring over the microfilm was I able to find he was listed as “Stacy” in the census.

If this is your family, you will want to go online and copy the indexed entry and compare it to the actual census image. I have included only the indexed version here for reference as this is the actual indexed entry:

Name: James Stacy
Event Type: Census
Event Year: 1850
Event Place: Fayette county, Fayette, Alabama, United States
Gender: Male
Age: 64
Race: White
Race (Original):
Birth Year (Estimated): 1786
Birthplace: South Carolina
Household ID: 653
House Number: 653
Line Number: 23
Affiliate Name: The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)
Affiliate Publication Number: M432
Affiliate Film Number: 5
GS Film Number: 2347
Digital Folder Number: 004187295
Image Number: 00291

Household Role Sex Age Birthplace (year of birth added by me)

James Stacy M 64 South Carolina (1886)
Hetty Stacy F 50 South Carolina (1800)
Joseph Stacy M 21 Alabama (1829)
James Stacy M 19 Alabama (1831)
George Stacy M 14 Alabama (1836)
Catherin Stacy F 13 Alabama (1837)
Elizabeth Stacy F 18 Alabama (1832)

Citing this Record: "United States Census, 1850," database with images, FamilySearch ( : 9 November 2014), James Stacy, Fayette county, Fayette, Alabama, United States; citing family 653, NARA microfilm publication M432 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).

Making notes

After comparing the image with the index version, I notice several differences between the 1850 census and the other information I have from other sources.

(1) The name is Lacey, not Stacy;

(2) The image was marked “cannot read/write” for both James Lacey and his wife, Hettie. As James left a bible record, and as the entry on the census “appears” to have been erased, I think James could read and write, meaning he probably came from an educated family of some wealth, backed up by the fact, his kids were in school and his personal wealth was $400 in Real Estate, a goodly sum in that period of time. I need to put it on my “to do” list to find his real estate holding in the 1850s.

Looking over the image, I also see C. D. and Sarah Lacey Dean, living next door. Also in close resident was William Hall, a surveyor.

Questions: who were the other close neighbors of my James Lacey?

To Do List: I need to LOOK at the census images for at least two pages before and two pages after this image and do a basic search on FamilySearch for some of those families. Did any of them move to Louisiana with this family? Could some of them also be living in close approximation of the Lacey’s in South Carolina.

Based on the fact all the children were born in Alabama, this census also tells me they were in Alabama by 1830, where child Joseph Lacey/Stacy would have been listed as a male “under the age of 10.”

To Do List: Find all Lacey/Stacy with “under age 10” males on the 1830 census for Alabama and South Carolina.

And James Lacey (born c1788) should be in the 1790 South Carolina census as a “under age 10 male.”

To Do List: Find all Lacey/Stacy with “under age 10” males on the 1790 South Carolina census (James would have been age 2.) and 1800 South Carolina census for a child (James) about the age of 12. Also need to look at Fields in the 1800 census to see if I can find a female child (Hettie) about the age of 1. In 1810, James would have been 22 and possibly in military training (just a hunch based on his family lineage) so if possible check out military schools and other military commands in South Carolina. And by 1810 Hettie would have been age 11. Hettie married a Lowe (Willliam?) by the time she was about 15 so look for Lowes living close to Fields in the 1820 census.

This led me to believe I would benefit from having a chart telling me the ages of each person for the different ages they would have been in the 1850 back through the 1790 census. [*Search first in “the state” census] Remember by 1860 they were in Louisiana.

Example of charting

age 1850
age 1840
age 1830
James Lacey
Hettie Fields Lowe
died 1845

1840 Census of Fayette County, Alabama


Eliminating the Other Same Name

After careful consideration, I was able to eliminate this James Lacey. This is the one that I would say is the son of Edward Lacey of South Carolina. I am also going to say that I think "my" James Lacey is probably closely related to this one, possibly even first or second cousins, so.... lots more research is needed on this family too, even tho' it is NOT my James Lacey.

1840 Census Jefferson County, Alabama

James P. Lacey, page 183, Jefferson Co. Ala
2 males under 5,
1 male age 20-30;
2 males ages 30-40;
and 1 male age 60-70

And 1 female aged 30-40

Name: James P Lacey
Event Type: Census
Event Date: 1840
Event Place: Jefferson, Alabama, United States
Page: 183
Affiliate Name: The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)
Affiliate Publication Number: M704
Affiliate Film Number: 6
GS Film Number: 0002333
Digital Folder Number: 005154493
Image Number: 00380

Citing this Record: "United States Census, 1840," database with images, FamilySearch ( : 24 August 2015), James P Lacey, Jefferson, Alabama, United States; citing p. 183, NARA microfilm publication M704, (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.), roll 6; FHL microfilm 2,333

Time to Keep LOOKING

To Do List: All Lacey/Stacy age 50-60 (James age 11) with a male aged 10-15 (George) and two females aged under 5 years (Catherine and Elizabeth) on the 1840 South Carolina census. You are also looking for Sarah (age 14 on the 1840 census). So remember, James (age 52), his wife Hettie (age 39), with at least five children)

(Remember James Lacey died 1852 in Alabama, so he was NOT in the Civil War. As we are looking for James Lacey’s parents, we can ignore for now all Civil War records on

I never expected this... or did I?

The 1830 census gave me quite a shock. As you can see James Stacy age 40-50 was living next door to William Lowe… BUT no William Lowe in the household. Just a female age 30-40 (Hettie) and five children: Elizabeth age 9, Mary age 5, Sarah age 4, Josiah Hill age 2, and James jr age 0 born 1829. They had already had one child, Olive, that was born and buried, 1823-1825.

In Conclusion...

According to the 1830 census James Lacey and Hettie (Fields) Lowe had children together starting in 1821. William Lowe was listed in the 1830 census but he is not shown listed in the household with Hettie and their four children born 1815-1818. James Lacey/Stacy lived next door. William Lowe was MIA with no explanation as to what happen to him. And I have not found any trace of him since. Perhaps he died or went to Texas. By 1840 James and Hettie was living together, but she still went by Hettie Lowe in 1845 according to a court document where they were fined $100 each “for relief.” No other explaintion was given but no marriage license has been found and while the four Lowe children are listed in the bible records, no marriage date is given for James and Hettie. As with all puzzles, we can make a subjective conclusion but we may never know for sure. Not even the most experienced of researchers (which I am not, even after 40+ years of doing research) can find information that no longer exists. Perhaps it never existed.

Hopefully the mystery of "William Lowe = Hettie Fields = James Lacey" will be solved by someone smarter or luckier than the rest of the family. Hopefully someone will also solve the mystery of James Lacey’s parentage as I am fairly sure that he is not James P. Lacey the son of Edward Lacey of South Caroline as many wish to place him… unless James Lacey had two families. James P. Lacey, son of Edward Lacey, married Sarah A. Meredith in 10 November 1841 in Shelby County, Alabama.

Putting meat on the bones...

As someone once told me: A story will put meat on the bones. Don’t let your family just be old dried out skeletons bleaching in the sun. They at one time were living, breathing people like you and me. Never forget WHO you came from. The sum of all of your ancestors put together makes the one of you. Never forget.

You need to read this book. It will change the way you look at your research!


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