The USGenWeb Census Project
The USGenWeb Census Project
Intro to Federal Census Research

Census Takers or Enumerators

Census records cannot always be relied on as accurate. Persons giving the information may not have known the exact ages or places of birth of each member of the household. And there's always been vanity about ages. In some cases people aged only five years in the ten years between the censuses! Census takers spelled what they heard and many of them spelled badly. And apparently they weren't hired because of their penmanship. Even so, the family listing in a census gives you valuable information and provides clues for further research.

  • Many enumerators were not well qualified.

  • Some enumerators did not follow instruction
    (i.e. initials only, no birth places listed, etc.)

  • Some enumerators used unfamiliar abbreviations and ditto marks
    (i.e. Conn., Ct., Cn., Cnct. were all used for Connecticut).

  • Instructions were not given about the physical path a census taker
    should follow when gathering the census information, only that he
    must cover the entire territory assigned to him. People who live on
    adjoining property might be listed several pages apart, depending
    on the route taken by the enumerator.

  • Emumerator may have missed a page by turning two pages at a time
    and by returning to the missed page the dwelling numbers or family
    numbers were recorded out of sequence on the pages.

  • Incorrect information was sometimes given by family members,
    memory might be poor (most people did not read or write)

  • Incorrect information was sometimes given due to lack of understanding the question.

  • If adults were not home, sometimes answers were requested of small
    children or neighbors or the enumerator guessed the answers himself.

  • Families were sometimes left off the census because they were away
    visiting relatives.

  • Some families lived in multi-dwelling units or remote country dwellings
    and were overlooked.

  • Some families were missed, due to the length of time it took to take the

  • Padded population.

  • Poor quality paper and ink

  • Difficulty in reading microfilm copies (due to poor photography, double
    papers or pages filmed, making writing too small, etc.).

  • The filmer might have missed a page by accidentally turning 2 pages.

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