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Intro to Federal Census Research

Enumeration District Descriptions and Maps

Researchers who cannot find a name in Soundex or in a commercial index may want to consult enumeration district (ED) descriptions and maps before undertaking the time-consuming task of examining all the schedules for a county or locality.

An ED refers to the area assigned to a single census-taker to count persons and prepare schedules within one census period. ED descriptions pertinent to the federal population schedules are in "Descriptions of Census Enumeration Districts, 1830-1890 and 1910-1950" (T1224). A roll listing in the NARA Microfilm Research Room provides additional details, including those pertinent to post-1890 censuses. All the rolls in T1224 may be purchased from the NARA.

ED Descriptions, 1830-90, in T1224
An asterisk (*) notes alphabetized states and territories









Arranged by region

No 1850 data for Oregon Territory

No data for Montana Territory but separate category for "Indians--All States"

No data for Alabama, Arizona Territory,
Arkansas, California, Colorado,
Connecticut, Montana Territory, Ohio,
Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.


The title of T1224 contains a misnomer because EDs, strictly defined, were not used until the 1880 census. The early censuses used the term subdivision to refer to part of a supervisor's or marshal's division or district. Subdivisions in the early censuses comprised towns, townships, or other units comparable to MCDs.

Most early ED descriptions are general and largely served as documentation of the names of enumerators and rates of pay. They may simply state that a census taker had to enumerate an entire county or an unspecified part of a subdivision. Beginning with 1850, the ED descriptions became increasingly detailed.

To use ED descriptions in T1224, a researcher should try to determine the location of a family, person, or institution in a certain census year. Especially for the late 1800s, death and birth certificates, city directories, tax records, or other sources may provide this information. The National Archives, though, has few of these records, which usually may be found in state or local repositories.

At a minimum, the researcher must determine the state or territory and try to identify the county. Descriptions found in T1224 may help narrow the search for the pertinent microfilm roll and for the schedules within a roll by specifying in what county certain localities (including MCDs, neighborhoods, or post offices) were in certain census years.

The 1880-90 descriptions are the most detailed, especially regarding urban areas, noting street names or ranges and specifying the corresponding EDs. This information can help the researcher find the correct microfilm roll for the 1880 schedules and speculate on the location of that ED's schedule within the roll.

The same research steps can help researchers find the 1890-1920 schedules, but most ED numbers changed for each census.

Maps can complement ED descriptions or provide substitutes for them. For censuses from 1790 through 1820, commercially or privately published maps are especially helpful and practical because the National Archives does not have ED descriptions and specially marked ED maps for these years. Many commercial indexes for censuses include maps for a particular year and state; if researchers know approximately where a family lived in a state, these maps can help identify the county and the corresponding microfilm roll listed in this catalog. William Thorndale and William Dollarhide, "Map Guide to the U.S. Federal Census, 1790-1920" (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1992) is especially useful in identifying counties and many localities in existence in early census years.

While the National Archives research rooms have some maps that can help researchers, the agency's Cartographic and Architectural Branch has some specially marked ED ("office copy") maps. They show streets, locations, or neighborhoods within cities and specify the ED.

"Cartographic Records of the Bureau of the Census," Preliminary Inventory (PI) 103 (Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Service, 1958) discusses ED maps available in the National Archives. The appendix to PI 103 lists the maps by alphabetizing the names of states, specifying counties or other localities, and noting availability for the years 1880-1940.

The National Archives has no pre-1880 ED maps, and maps for the 1880 census exist for only Washington, DC, Rockwall County, TX, and Atlanta in Fulton County, GA.

Only 11 ED maps exist for the 1890 census, and none pertains to the remaining schedules. One exception is the map of Washington, DC, which shows part of the area to which a few schedules pertain; but this map is far less helpful than M496, the alphabetical index, in locating these schedules.

Beginning in 1900, maps pertinent to censuses became more numerous and detailed. To order a copy, researchers should consult the appendix in PI 103 and write to the Cartographic and Architectural Branch (NNSC), National Archives at College Park, 8601 Adelphi Road, College Park, MD 20740-6001. Prices vary with the map size. Even full-scale maps, though, may be difficult to read, especially because black-and-white copies may obscure colored ED boundaries.

National Archives maps can help with research on other topics in addition to censuses. The Library of Congress also has many fire insurance, cadastral, and real property maps that can complement National Archives maps and help with the use of ED descriptions.

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