The US census forms the basis of much of our family history research. It is often among the first things we search for when trying to answer a genealogical question. However, there are clues that are often missed. Let's take a look at 5 hidden clues in the US census.
1. 1940 Census: The X in the Circle
One of the challenges with the US census is that we don't know who gave the information. Did they know what they were talking about? Guess what — we know who gave the information in the 1940 census! The enumerators were instructed to mark the informant with an X that was circled.
In the 1940 census, Fred Weber gave the information for the Richard Hall household in Jackson Township, Ocean County, New Jersey. Fred was Richard's son-in-law. Did Fred have accurate knowledge about his in-laws? Maybe. Maybe not. Knowing who gave the information for this household could help us evaluate it if doesn't seem to fit with other information that we have.
2. 1910 Census: Civil War Service
It's normal to focus on the left-hand side of the census page. That's where the names are listed! But be sure to scroll over to the right-hand side of the census. In 1910, you'll find a question in column 30: "Whether a survivor of the Union or Confederate Army or Navy."
The abbreviations used in this column for UA for Union Army; UN for Union Navy; CA for Confederate Army; and CN for Confederate Navy.
(The 1910 census is one place to look for clues to military service. Check out these other places to look.)
3. 1840 Census: Military Pensioners
While we're on the subject of military service, let's look at the 1840 census. It's tempting to skip the pre-1850 censuses because they only list the head of household by name... or do they?
On the right-hand page of the 1840 census (did you know it has two pages?) there's a column for "Pensioners for Revolutionary or Military Services, Included in the Foregoing." The column next to it is for that person's age.
What's especially cool about this question on the 1840 is that it isn't limited to the head of household. It could be anyone in the household who was the pensioner. For example, 84-year-old pensioner Gideon Deming (shown above) was listed in the Sylvester Hale household. (Moral of the story: always look at the right-hand page!)
4. 1880 Census: Disabilities
The 1880 census has a clue that can point you to a different census schedule. Questions 16-20 asked if the person was blind, "deaf and dumb," idiotic, insane, or "maimed, crippled, bedridden or otherwise disabled." If any of those columns are checked, look for the Special Schedule of Defective, Dependent, and Delinquent Classes.
In the example above, Michael A. Bright is noted as "maimed, crippled, bedridden, or otherwise disabled;" Maria Diamond is noted as "1/2" blind (not a normal notation); and Lewis A. Diamond is noted as "deaf and dumb."
On the Special Schedule, Maria is listed as blind, which occurred at age 75, caused by old age. Lewis is listed on the deaf schedule as being deaf since birth and that he attended the Pennsylvania Institute in Philadelphia. (Time to look for school records!)
5. 1850-1870 Census: Agriculture and Manufacturers
The 1850-1870 censuses had additional schedules pertaining to agriculture and manufacturers (industry). If your ancestor was listed as a farmer or had an occupation where he or she was manufacturing something, look for those schedules to get more information about how they earned their living. (By the way, if your ancestor was listed as a farmer, look at the manufacturers schedule anyway. Many farmers had sideline businesses such as tanneries or sawmills.) You can find many of these schedules on Ancestry and FamilySearch.