Understanding the 1840 Census Questions

The sixth census was governed by the same general provisions of law as in 1830. Under the provisions of an act of March 3, 1839 (and amended by an act of February 26, 1840), the enumeration began on June 1, 1840. Marshals were to receive two copies of the census receipts from enumerators by November 1, 1840, one of which was to be sent to the Secretary of State by December 1, 1840. Again, as a result of delays, the deadlines for assistants and marshals were extended to May 1 and June 1, 1841, respectively. (The January 14, 1841 act extending these deadlines also provided for the re-enumeration of Montgomery County, Maryland, [due to discrepancies in the reports], to begin on June 1, 1841, and to be completed, with receipts returned, by October 1, 1841.)

No population questionnaire was prescribed by the Congress—the design of the questionnaire was left to the discretion of the Secretary of State, and closely followed that used in 1830. The law did specify the inquiries to be made of each household.

1840 Census Guide – Questions & Information

The 1840 census covered the following states:

  1. Alabama
  2. Arkansas
  3. Connecticut
  4. Delaware
  5. District of Columbia
  6. Florida Territory
  7. Georgia
  8. Illinois
  9. Indiana
  10. Iowa Territory
  11. Kentucky
  12. Louisiana
  13. Maine
  14. Maryland
  15. Massachusetts
  16. Michigan
  17. Mississippi
  18. Missouri
  19. New Hampshire
  20. New Jersey
  21. New York
  22. North Carolina
  23. Ohio
  24. Pennsylvania
  25. Rhode Island
  26. South Carolina
  27. Tennessee
  28. Vermont
  29. Virginia
  30. Wisconsin Territory

I have not found any record of missing schedules for the 1840 census.

Information Found Within the 1840 Census

  • Name of Head of Household
  • Name of the county, parish, township, town, or city where the family resides
  • Number of free white males and free white females in specific age categories
  • Number of free other males and free other females in specific age categories (not Native American)
  • Name of a slave owner and number of slaves owned by that person
  • Number of male and female slaves by age categories
  • Number of foreigners (not naturalized) in a household
  • Number of deaf, dumb and blind persons in the household

Genealogy Strategy for the 1840 Census

With the 1840 census, genealogists are provided for the first time a look at the ages of Revolutionary War pensioners, further family statistics into occupation, school, illiteracy, and the number of “insane.”

  1. Establishing the Composition of a Family
    While still providing only the head of household’s name, the 1840 census continues the table of ages for family members carried forth from the 1830 census. White males and females were broken down by years according to the following table: under 5 years of age, 5 to 10, 10 to 15, 15 to 20, 20 to 30, 30 to 40, 40 to 50, 50 to 60, 60 to 70, 70 to 80, 80 to 90, 90 to 100, and 100 years and upward.
  2. Tracking the Head of Household
    The 1840 census provides the name of the head of household. This will be useful for tracking this family in future census.
  3. Location of the Household
    As in all census, the location of the household at the time the census was taken becomes a valuable tool for further research allowing you to concentrate on records of that time period in that particular location. The 1840 census will provide you the exact county, parish, township, town, or city where the family resides.
  4. Relatives
    It is possible to identify relatives by looking at the census for the nearest neighbors to your ancestor.
  5. Manufacturing
    There was no manufacturing data taken in 1840.
  6. Slave Research
    Slaves were identified by the number and age of such in a household. Slaves were broken down in age according to the following table: under 10 years of age, 10 to 24, 24 to 36, 36 to 55, 55 to 100, and 100 years and upward. There were a total of 2,482,546 slaves enumerated in the 1840 census of the United States3. Researchers who have identified a slave holder of a possible ancestor should then consult probate or tax records for possible further identity of specific individuals. Because there are ages given with the slaves, the genealogist is able (with verification from additional records) to determine the birth order in families, especially where names and sex of all members of a slave family are known.
  7. Freedmen Research
    Freed colored persons were identified by number and age of such in a household. Freedmen were broken down in age according to the following table: under 10 years of age, 10 to 24, 24 to 36, 36 to 55, 55 to 100, and 100 years and upward. There were a total of 377,757 freedmen enumerated in the 1840 census of the United States2.
  8. Native American Research
    It is possible to find your Native American ancestor in the 1840 census only if they were residing in an area being taxed. If this is the case, then your ancestor would be enumerated as any other tax paying citizen was.
  9. Foreigners
    Foreigners not naturalized can assist a researcher in identifying the approximate length of time a family may have resided in the United States.
  10. Revolutionary War Pensioners
    This census included a special enumeration of military pensioners. The names and ages listed were printed in A Census of Pensioners for Revolutionary or Military Services; With Their Names, Ages, Places of Residence, Washington, DC: Department of State, 1841 (reprinted by the Genealogical Publishing Co., Baltimore, MD, in 1967) and reproduced at the end of roll 3 in National Archives microfilm publication T498. The manuscript has been transcribed and can be found online at: A Census of Pensioners for Revolutionary or Military Services
  11. Insane
    An indication of insane within a household might point to guardianship or institutional records.1

1840 Census Forms


  1. The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy, Revised Edition, Edited by Loretto Dennis Szucs and Sandra Hardgreaves Luebking, 1997. Ancestry, Inc., Salt Lake City, Utah.
  2. Source: Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research. Study 00003: Historical Demographic, Economic, and Social Data: U.S., 1790-1970. Anne Arbor: ICPSR.

1840 Census,

Partridge, Dennis N. United States Census Guide. Copyright 2008-2013.

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