The 1850 census was the 7th Census of the United States. The data obtained in this census was a major improvement over previous census records. This is the first census to include the name of all family members (not just the Head of Household as in previous years). This was for free white and free colored only. Unfortunately slaves were not listed by name, but were included on a separate schedule by age and sex only.
One small disadvantage with the 1850 census is that no relationship was stated between the people in the household. Suppose you have a John Floyd, age 36, Mary Floyd, 35, John Floyd Jr., 7, Cynthia Floyd, 5 and Charles Floyd age 1. You can probably safely assume that John and Mary were husband and wife and that John Jr., Cynthia and Charles were their children, however, this may not be the case at all. It could be that John and Mary are brother and sister, and that the children are their orphaned nephews and nieces, or perhaps children of Mary's born out of wedlock. There are many possibilities. As with earlier census records it helps to have additional evidence from other sources.
The 1850 census was taken state by state, and county by county, and in some cases the counties were further divided by districts (such as townships, etc.). In 1850, the records were left in the original order the census taker visited each household, which is very useful to determine who a persons neighbors were. If you see three Floyd families listed side by side, you can reasonably assume they are somehow related. Of course their are always cases where they appear to be "side by side", but were not close together at all, depending on how the census taker visited houses.
You can determine an approximate birth year for a person listed in the 1850 census. The census was taken as of 1 June 1850, so you can narrow a persons approximate birth down to within two calendar years. If they were listed as age 25 in 1850, they were either born in mid to late 1824, or early to mid 1825 (depending on when their birth date was). It should be mentioned that the ages given in 1850 and later census records are not always correct. This all depends on who gave the census taker the information.
The 1850 Census was a huge improvement over the 1840 and earlier census records. Each free person was listed by household including name, ages and other information for each person. I will explain what each column represents in detail below.
The census was as of 1 Jun 1850, meaning all data collected (even if collected months after that date) was supposed to reflect the families condition on 1 Jun 1850, meaning all ages were to be listed how they were back on June 1st, even if it was three months later when the census taker asked. It isn't know if the census taker adhered to this rule or not, but that is what they were supposed to do.
The "page number" that I use on my published census abstracts are normally the stamped page number. Each "page" of the 1850 census was actually two pages. The second page had no number, and is usually designated by the page number of the previous page plus the letter "B", for example, page 75 and 75B. Some census records also had a handwritten page number at the top of each page.
The 1850 census had a header at the top of each page with information on the county, the district, the date and other information. Here is an example (the underlined sections are blanks filled in by the census taker, the rest is pre-printed on the form):
- SCHEDULE I. -- Free Inhabitants in Tennessee Valley in the County of Macon State
- of North Carolina_ enumerated by me, on the 5th day of June_ 1850. John Smith Ass't Marshal. 73
- Free Inhabitants in ___: Anything listed here indicates Township or District or town. This is often left blank if a county is not subdivided in anyway.
- County of ___: This is the County name.
- State of ___: This is the State name.
- Enumerated by me on the __ day of ___, 1850: This is the date the census taker actually visited the households listed on this page. You can see that this date can be months after "1 June 1850" when the census was "as of".
- ___ Ass't Marshal. This is the name of the man or men who took the census.
- Page Number. After the Assistant Marshall's name is the stamped page number (on alternating pages). If their is a handwritten page number, it is often.
The columns for the 1850 census follows:
- Dwelling-houses numbered in the order of visitation. This is what I refer to as the Household number. Each house was numbered consecutively. If more than one family group lived in the same house, the family number would be different, but the household number would be the same.
- Families numbered in the order of visitation. This is what I refer to as the Family Number. Each family was numbered consecutively. If more than one family group lived in the same house, each family would have a different family number (this isn't always true), but the household number would be the same.
- The Name of every Person whose usual place of abode on the first day of June, 1850 was in this family. This is the name of each individual living in this house or family. The family members are usually listed in this order: Husband, wife, all children by age, parents, brothers, sisters, etc. This isn't a rule, just a general way you find it. Some Census takers listed all males first, then all females. No relationships are stated.
- Age. The age in years of each person as of June 1, 1850.
- Sex. Male or Female.
- Color. (White, black, or mulatto.). The race of each person. The categories were very limiting, as not all people fit into these three categories. "Mulatto" was used for those "Free Colored" people who didn't quite fit the census takers definition of black or white. See my Race Codes pages for more on this subject. If the person was white, this column was to be left blank, though some census takers didn't do it that way.
- Profession, Occupation, or Trade of each Male Person over 15 years of age.
- Value of Real Estate owned. The value in dollars of the land owned by each household member.
- Place of Birth, Naming the State, Territory, or Country. Place of birth of each person, usually just the state, but some census takers helpfully included the county or birth.
- Married within the year. This column would be marked if the person had married within the past year. (i.e. from June 1st 1849 to June 1st 1850). Some census takers misunderstood the purpose of this column and put the year of marriage for everyone instead.
- Attended School within the year. This column would be marked if the person had been in school in the past year (i.e. from June 1st 1849 to June 1st 1850).
- Persons over 20 y'rs of age who cannot read & write. This column would be marked if the person was illiterate (very common back then).
- Whether deaf and dumb, blind, insane, idiotic, pauper, or convict.