So, what are state censuses? Why are they important? Where are they? What format are they in? Are they indexed? Since this is but a mere article and not a whole book, the writer hopes that the reader will bear with him as he attempts to wrestle these questions to a draw.
What they are is lists of names just like the U. S. Federal Census that we all know and love, with the same attendant problem of reliability, spelling, etc. Various states took various censuses at various times, and that is reflected in the amount and kinds of information collected. Some are nominal censuses; that is, with names. Others are tax lists or other head counts. Some have all family members listed. Others do not. Some collected age, place of birth, citizenship, length of residence in a locality, amount that the persons were worth, what their occupation and marital status was – or the census takers did not. Some states (like New York) took economic and demographic censuses, so that if one can locate these one can see the economic status of a farm or location, which can help to understand why a family was successful or not in their endeavors.
The reason state censuses are important is that they can provide a way to find people and their activities during the years between the federal censuses, and in the case of many states, to help to fill-in the "empty years" between the federal censuses [filling in for the lost 1890 census, for example]. Like the federal censuses, the state versions hopefully give likely dates and places of birth, relationships, and places of origin, occupations, and citizenship status.
Some of these censuses are quite informative, indeed, and others not so much at all. A good example of an informative state census is one which has names, ages, gender, race, relation to head of household, where born (county if within a state), martial status, widowed or not, years residing in that census area, occupation, if native born or naturalized, whether the person can read or write, a landowner or not, if afflicted in some manner, parents of how many children, number of times married, and number of years in the USA. Appendices may give marriages and deaths in that area for the year preceding the state census. This can be very useful if it happens to predate the official registration of a state. Some censuses are that detailed. Others just ask name, number of males and females of what ages in the household. Still, the state censuses do provide information of where people were during the time between the federal censuses. For example, New York took censuses 1825 through 1925. There are none taken later. For the most part, they are not yet online or indexed – albeit there are exceptions to that rule.
Ancestry.com has started to add the state censuses for New York and others, and the LDS web site, has put a number of state censuses online. Some are searchable (that is, indexed) and others require browsing page by page. As always, creative spelling is a good item to keep in mind, and variations can occur.
Where are they? What formats are they in?
This requires a scattershot answer. They are quite literally all over the map. Some are in historians' offices, some are in libraries or historical societies or archives, and some are in state government locations. The formats that they are in vary tremendously as well – some are the original books which almost 200 years later are turning into yellow snow where they are used. Some have been reprinted in an actual "book" format. Some have been partially or fully indexed. Some (but not nearly enough) have been digitized. Some are available on the Internet, either free on sites like the LDS church's familysearch.org, or on private persons' sites, or for a fee such as on commercial sites like Ancestry.com
Following is a short summary of items which were found when writing this article. As the reader will see, there are many statements of where and what these records are.
I am familiar with a 1948 publication that was the last word on this subject when I started in the genealogy library many years ago. Now, search engines like Google make it possible to find a lot of information quickly and what might have been true back in the day can be updated. Statements of what was lost may be inaccurate since items may have been found in the interim.
There are very good works by renowned writer, William Dollarhide – "Census substitutes & state census records: an annotated bibliography of published name lists for all 50 U. S. states and state censuses for 37 states. " The work was published by Family Roots Publishing Co. in 2008. A statement of coverage appears: "Census substitutes are those name lists derived from tax lists, directories, military lists, land ownership lists, voter registrations, and other compilations of names of residents for an entire state, one or more counties of a state, or one or more towns of a county". Another good work of his that might be of interest for New York state researchers is his "New York State censuses & substitutes: an annotated bibliography of state censuses, census substitutes, and selected name lists in print, on microform, or online: with county boundary maps, 1683-1915: and state census examples and extraction forms, 1825-1925" published by Genealogical Publishing in 2005. Coverage statement: "This book identifies the state census manuscripts that survive, and the microfilmed copies available for New York's sixty-two counties" Disclosure: this writer did the pages which describe the Monroe County state census records.
There are also web pages which can describe what's available for a location, such at these - New York State Census Records (in New York, a library can only purchase its own county, although all counties are available through the LDS Family History Centers). Another state information page is at: Iowa Research Outline: State Censuses
We have mentioned that several state censuses are beginning to be available online. Free copies are available at the LDS's church's pilot online program page, although some are indexed and some are not, and not all counties within a state are there. See FamilySearch Record Search, Browse Collections, which notes that the following areas are available as of early 2010: Florida 1885, 1935, 1945; Massachusetts 1855 and 1865; Minnesota 1885 and 1895; New York NYS 1865, 1892, 1905; Rhode Island 1915; South Dakota 1905, 1915, and 1925; and Wisconsin 1855, 1875, 1885, 1895, and 1905.
Be sure to check the "About this Collection" page for each of the above, as that will tell you if they are indexed or only browsable, and what counties are included.
On commercial sites I found information about what's included on Ancestry.com – here's a table which shows that information:
Title Category Places Record Count
Iowa State Census Collection, 1836-1925
Census & Voter Lists USA; Iowa; North America 9,549,935
Kansas State Census Collection, 1855-1925
Census & Voter Lists USA; Kansas; North America 8,238,269
Florida State Census, 1867-1945
Census & Voter Lists USA; Florida; North America 4,131,298
Iowa State Census, 1895
Census & Voter Lists USA; Iowa; North America 1,934,349
New Jersey State Census, 1895
Census & Voter Lists USA; New Jersey; North America 1,553,838
Nebraska State Census Collection, 1860-1885
Census & Voter Lists USA; Nebraska; North America 851,345
Nebraska State Census, 1885
Census & Voter Lists USA; Nebraska; North America 737,606
Illinois State Census Collection, 1825-1865
Census & Voter Lists USA; Illinois; North America 671,537
New York State Census Collection
Census & Voter Lists New York 509,164
Iowa State Census 1885
Census & Voter Lists USA; Iowa; North America 411,324
Missouri State Census Collection, 1844-1881
Census & Voter Lists USA; Missouri; North America 315,589
Florida State Census, 1885
Census & Voter Lists USA; Florida; North America 291,261
Colorado State Census, 1885
Census & Voter Lists USA; Colorado; North America 195,979
Michigan State Census, 1894
Census & Voter Lists USA; Michigan; North America 173,120
Albany, New York State Census, 1915
Census & Voter Lists USA; New York; North America 108,686
Mississippi State and Territorial Census Collection, 1792-1866
Census & Voter Lists USA; Mississippi; North America 87,415
Nevada State Census, 1875
Census & Voter Lists USA; Nevada; North America 51,506
South Dakota State Census, 1895
Census & Voter Lists USA 21,007
Riley County Kansas 1925 Decennial Agricultural State census
Census & Voter Lists USA; Kansas; Riley; North America 19,722
Riley County, Kansas State Census, 1915 Census & Voter Lists USA; Kansas; Riley; North America 16,507 Riley county, Kansas, 1905 State Census Census & Voter Lists USA; Kansas; Riley; North America 13,738 Riley county, Kansas, 1885 State Census Census & Voter Lists USA; Kansas; Riley; North America 12,196 Leavenworth, Kansas State Census, 1865 Census & Voter Lists USA; Kansas; Leavenworth; North America 7,641 Riley county, Kansas State Census, 1865 Census & Voter Lists USA; Kansas; Riley; North America 1,813
See what I meant about being all over the map?
But there are many more, hidden away in transcriptions, or in card files that are not yet online. For example, my library has a 52,000-name card file of everyone in Monroe County townships (not the city of Rochester), transcribed from the 1855 census of NY. We are typing that into a searchable database. Why is this a step up from what you might find on a commercial site? Among other things, it will be downloadable and extractable, town by town. The local historians are quite happy that we are going to make this available, as they will be able to search their own towns for that year very easily. And just think of the benefit when you have an easily searchable tool, which can be used by younger genealogists. One other item to mention is information on GenWeb sites – Orleans County borders Monroe County, New York on the West, and they have transcribed the state census information for 1855, 1865, 1875, 1892 and 1915, searchable by name, by township, etc. This differs from what my library has in that we will have many more fields of data transcribed.
There are more guides available to state censuses – you will not run out of things to guide you. One of the standard works in the field was published in 1948 buy the Library of Congress and is entitled, "State censuses; an annotated bibliography of censuses of population taken after the year 1790 by States and Territories of the United States," prepared by Henry J. Dubester.
Two hundred and seventy-five (275) libraries own this book according to WorldCat, and it is also available through the Family History Centers on microfiche. (FHL US/CAN Fiche 6018062) and on microfilm. (FHL US/CAN Film 982038 Item 13)
Dubester's work states the following: states not having known censuses in 1948: CT, DE, ID, KY, ME, MD, MT, NH, NM, NC, OH, OK, PA, VT, VA, WA, WV. [HI and AK were not states in 1948].
However, there is only some joy to be found. In the appendix to Dubester's book, he notes the following as to availability back in 1948 for these: AL – no info; AZ – with the secretary of state; CA – with the secretary of state; DC – no info; FL – no info 1845 and 1855; 1885-1935 originals destroyed; GA – small packet of fragments in GA public archives; IL – fairly good shape, in IL archives; IN – no info; IA – State Dept of History and Archives; KS – Kansas Historical Society; KY – no info; LA – no info; MA – no info; MI – location not known; MN - Minnesota Historical Society; MS- Mississippi Dept of History and Archives; MO –no info; NE – no info; NV – no info; NJ – New Jersey state library; NY – in county clerk's offices, filmed by LDS, and in state library; ND – North Dakota Historical Society Library; OR – Oregon Historical Society; RI – some in state Labor Dept.; SC – no info; SD – South Dakota state historical society; TX – no info; UT – no info; WI – secretary of state; and WY – Secretary of State for 1905 only. Others could not be located.
Again, see what I mean, being all over the map? And this is effectively 40 or 50 years before the Internet began to be used for genealogy.
Where can you learn more about state censuses and how to use them?
Of course there are references on the LDS familysearch.org web site as well (look for research helps, and then sort by subject).