Understanding the 1860 Census Questions

The Eighth Census of the United States was authorized by the previous census May 23, 1850 act. On the recommendation of the Secretary of the Interior, the provisions of this act were to be “adhered to, following the requirement for the taking of the eighth, or any subsequent census under its provisions, if no law, therefore, was passed before January 1 of the year in which the census was required.1” By an act of May 5, 1860, a clerical force was provided for the census office and on June 1, 1860, and Joseph C. G. Kennedy was appointed Superintendent.

The census office, and the position of Superintending Clerk were (for all practical purpose) abolished in May 1862. A portion of the clerks engaged in census work were transferred to the General Land Office, where the work of the 1860 census was completed, including the publication of a two-volume census report, under the direction of the Commissioner of the General Land Office.

1860 Census Guide – Questions & Information

The 1860 census covered the following states:

  1. Alabama
  2. Arkansas
  3. California
  4. Connecticut
  5. Dakota Territory*
  6. Delaware
  7. District of Columbia
  8. Florida
  9. Georgia
  10. Illinois
  11. Indiana
  12. Indian Territory**
  13. Iowa
  14. Kansas
  15. Kentucky
  16. Louisiana
  17. Maine
  18. Maryland
  19. Massachusetts
  20. Michigan
  21. Minnesota
  22. Mississippi
  23. Missouri
  24. Nebraska
  25. New Hampshire
  26. New Jersey
  27. New Mexico Territory
  28. New York
  29. North Carolina
  30. Ohio
  31. Oregon
  32. Pennsylvania
  33. Rhode Island
  34. South Carolina
  35. Tennessee
  36. Texas
  37. Utah Territory
  38. Vermont
  39. Virginia
  40. Washington Territory
  41. Wisconsin

Schedules for some counties are missing.

* The Dakota Territory consisted of all remaining unorganized area.
** The Indian Territory, which contained the present day Oklahoma, was enumerated only for those Non-American settlers. The information will be found at the end of the Arkansas Census.

Information Found Within the 1860 Census

  • Name of each person.
  • Name of the county, parish, township, town, or city where the family resides
  • Age
  • Sex
  • Color (Race)
  • Birthplace
  • Whether married in the last year
  • Profession, occupation, or trade of each person over 15 years of age
  • Value of Real Estate
  • Value of Personal Estate
  • Whether deaf, blind, dumb, insane, idiotic, pauper, or criminal
  • Whether able to speak or speak English
  • Whether the person attended school within the previous year

Genealogy Strategy for the 1860 Census

The 1860 census is very similar to the 1850 census, except that it separated the value of real estate and the value of personal estates.

  1. 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 1860 census will provide you the district, township, and county of your ancestor.
  2. Establishing the Composition of a Family
    Individual names are provided. No relationships were given in the census, instructions were provided to the census taker as to which order to enumerate a household. “The names are to be written, beginning with the father and mother; or if either, or both, be dead, begin with some other ostensible head of the family; to be followed, as far as practicable, with the name of the oldest child residing at home, then the next oldest, and so on to the youngest, then the other inmates, lodgers and borders, laborers, domestics, and servants.”
  3. Age of Inhabitants
    The 1860 census (column 13) indicates the month in which the person was born, if born “within the year,” that is between June 1, 1869 and May 31, 1870. While not an exact age, the fact that you’re provided the year each person is born will assist you in finding birth records.
  4. Freedmen Research
    Freed men of color were enumerated identically to any other free person. There were a total of 476,748 freedmen enumerated in the 1860 census of the United States.
  5. Tracking the Migration
    The 1860 census provides the birthplace of each individual. Along with the age of each individual this can enable the genealogist to track the location of the family at different years in the past. The instructions provided to the enumerators requested that they provide the initials or name of the state, or country of each person enumerated. Some enumerators would provide an even further breakdown, such as county or township, especially when the birth occurred in the state of the enumeration.
  6. Occupation
    The occupation of each male family member over 15 is recorded. Indication of a farmer would point to further searching of Schedule 4, agricultural census. A mention of a profession would indicate possible search of a professional directory. Clergy were enumerated as well under occupation, and the genealogist should search within the records of the denomination indicated.
  7. Foreigners
    The 1870 census (column 19) has a check mark for “Male Citizens of the U.S. of 21 years of age and upwards.” If the person was a foreign-born citizen, this means that he had become naturalized by 1870. Furthermore, The 1870 census (columns 11-12) have check marks if the person’s parents were “of foreign birth.
  8. Real Estate
    An indication of real estate value might point to land or tax records.
  9. Personal Estate
    The personal value of an individuals estate is likely to err on the side of less, rather then more. It is highly likely that the person being enumerated was unlikely to provide a true net worth as they were afraid of being taxed on the amount given.
  10. At School
    An indication of being at school within a household might point to local school records.
  11. Insane
    An indication of insane within a household might point to guardianship or institutional records.1
  12. Convict
    The indication of a persons enumeration as a convict is rare, unless the census actually finds them in the jail at the time of the census. Furthermore, a person in jail, may be listed twice, if his home was in a different district. Instructions given to the enumerator was to ask, or use their own knowledge and county records as a source, in identifying those who had been a “criminal” within the past year.
  13. Slave Research
    Slaves for the first time were enumerated in separate schedules. There were a total of 3,950,528 slaves enumerated in the 1860 census of the United States3. The 1860 questionnaire relating to slave inhabitants collected the names of slave owners; number of slaves; the slaves color, sex, age, and whether deaf and dumb, blind, insane, or idiotic; the numbers of fugitives from the state; and the number manumitted.
  14. Native American Research
    It is possible to find your Native American ancestor in the 1860 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. Even though there was a census of the Indian Territory it was only Non-Indians that were enumerated.

 1860 Census Forms


  1. Wright and Hunt, p. 50.
  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.

1860 Census,

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

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