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Farming the Census: Clues to Your Ancestors’ Lifestyle

If your ancestors were farmers you may be missing a wealth of information if you neglect to check this source.

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Type: Article
Resource: GenWeekly
Prepared by: Melissa Slate
Word Count: 482 (approx.)
Labels: Census 
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One important aspect of census data that is often underutilized is the Agricultural schedules. These schedules were a listing of all the farming operations that met certain inclusion criteria. Agricultural schedules exist for the censuses of 1850-1880. These supplemental schedules deliver a wealth of information and can yield clues as to your ancestor's daily existence. If you see your ancestor's occupation listed as farmer then that should be your clue to check the agricultural census data as well, because the data in these census schedules was gathered in addition to the data on the regular population schedule, so your ancestor may be listed more than once.

One thing to note is that not every farm is included on the schedules. The 1850 census excluded small farms that did not produce at least $100 worth of products annually. By 1870, the census excluded farms of less than three acres or which produced less than $500 worth of goods. Keep in mind, however, that these rules were not always religiously followed.

The kind of information that can be found on the agricultural census can include the name of the landowner; whether the farm was owned or rented for a part of the profits; the number of improved and unimproved acreage; the cash value of the farm and farm implements; the number and value of livestock; the amounts of crops and the amounts various farm products produced are also listed.

The census is quite detailed in that it describes the amount of wheat, rye, Indian corn, oats, rice, tobacco, clover seed, grass seed, flax seed, hops, and hemp produced. Yes hemp. Now hold onto your hat — Great-Grandpa most likely did not smoke it. Hemp was, at that time, the primary material for making rope.

You can also find out how many pounds of butter, cheese, flax, cane sugar, maple sugar, beeswax, and honey the farm produced, as well as how many gallons of wine were made. Now perhaps, Great Grandpa did take a wee sip from time to time.

Another thing that you should note is that if you see that goods were produced on this farm such as production of cheese, grain products, or sugar, check the manufacturing schedules that were also a part of the census. Great-Grandpa may be listed there as well.

The agricultural records can be obtained from the National Archives during an on-site visit to the Washington, D.C. office. Selected records may also be available at the National Archives and Records Administration Regional Service facilities. The agricultural records may also be available in your state archives or equivalent repository. Sometimes the records can also be stored in unlikely places. Records for the state of Georgia are stored at Duke University Library in Durham, North Carolina.

The agricultural schedules can lend insight into the day-to-day operation of Great-Grandfather's farm and give clues as to the financial status of the family, so dust off those plows and happy farming.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2006.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

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