Researchers like to have the details right. One such researcher asked this question recently.

“Does anyone know when the 1840 census for New York would have been counted?  I have checked WMGS forms for the Federal census and do not see a date anywhere.  I checked all of the pages available to me on Ancestry.  The Citation for ancestry does not give a date.  Is there anywhere else I can look?  I think I have the right family but need this information to be absolutely sure.”

Great question. Seems that each Federal census had unique goals and corresponding questions. While investigating the answer the following was found.

All questions asked in most census years were supposed to refer to the official enumeration day of the census. Each census had a specific time period in which to be completed – usually a few months. Below is the list of each census year and the corresponding official enumeration dates.

  • 1790 – 2 August
  • 1800 – 4 August
  • 1810 – 6 August
  • 1820 – 7 August
  • 1830 – 1 June
  • 1840 – 1 June
  • 1850 – 1 June
  • 1860 – 1 June
  • 1870 – 1 June
  • 1880 – 1 June
  • 1890 – 2 June
  • 1900 – 1 June
  • 1910 – 15 April
  • 1920 – 1 January
  • 1930 – 1 April
  • 1940 – 1 April (which it has been each subsequent year to present day)

So, how do you record the census date in your records? I have a case in my family in which the 1894 Michigan state census taker for Fremont, Michigan was at my great-great grandmother’s house on 22 June 1894. My great-great grandfather, Wooster C. BRYANT had died on 13 June, yet he was counted in the census. The reason? He was alive on the 1st of June which was the official enumeration date for the state census. So, in the time-line for Wooster C. BRYANT, he died, was buried and 6 days later was enumerated!

What I do is record the official enumeration date for those census years that provide no specific date for the interview – 1790 through 1840. For subsequent years that do have interview dates handwritten by the census taker, I record that date. Some census takers were very good about recording the actual dates, even down to indicating in the margins if the records on a single page were written over more than one day. Other recorders didn’t write in a date at all. In those cases, I enter the official enumeration date in my database.

Another problem that causes confusion in census records is the various ages of household members written are not very reliable. Part of the problem is the official enumeration date issue. If the actual date the question was posed to the inhabitant of a given household was not the day of the official enumeration date, who knows if the question was stated by the census taker with enough clarity to yield the correct answer. On top of that, there is the variable capacity of the answerer to correctly calculate each age of all persons in the household.

All this makes census to you, right?