Forgotten Trails: Census remarks invaluable

Published 9:31 pm Wednesday, June 25, 2008

By Staff
I want to continue to work on the census records. I told you last week something of the detail on the 1850 census. Besides the name, age, sex, color, occupation, value of real estate, birthplace, whether married within the year, school within the year, and whether they could read or write there was a column for remarks by the census taker.
I had a great-great grandfather named David M. Young (1809-1884). I had found him in the 1860 census in Dale County, Alabama but he was not in the 1850 census for that county or anywhere else in Alabama. Now I had studied the Dale County 1850 census enough to know that many families were missed in that count. I know this because I had searched it for people that I knew were there. In 1860 David Young was listed as a 49 year old with a 21 year old wife, Susan. Living with them were Spivey Newby, age 22, Martha Newby, age 17, and David E., age eight months. David M. Young was a well-to-do farmer who was listed as born in Georgia. In fact, everyone in the household was born in Georgia except David E., who was born in Alabama. David M. was also one of the few ancestors of mine who owned slaves.
Using the Georgia lead, I looked for David M. Young there in 1850. Sure enough, I found him in Stewart County, Georgia. He had a different wife and two daughters. I figured it was the same person because one of the daughters was named Martha. I thought the wife, Mary, died and David married Susan and moved to Alabama. I spanned the census page and under the column, remarks, wife Mary was listed as insane. My husband is always telling me to tell about my crazy ancestor. I keep reminding him that Mary was not my ancestor – Susan was. And one has to remember that this was the time frame that if you were a little odd, you might be considered insane. I don't know to what degree her's was.
Anyway, I thought that Mary had died but, in 1884, when David made his will, she was still alive. Although I have never found a record of divorce, I am sure there was one because David referred to Susan as his beloved wife in his will. The court papers include a letter that states that Mary has no right to a part of the estate. I have since heard from a descendant of David and Mary who lives in Arizona include this story to show you that the census can give you clues you never expect.
The 1830 and 1840 censuses were similar. They list only the head of the households by name. The rest of the family is listed by age group, sex, and color. The 1790-1830 census records are much the same except the age groups vary.
Let me say here that there are other census records that can be very useful. There are various state censuses taken and one that is very shortly after the end of the Civil War. It lists only the head of the household by name and tells it's own story.
There are many women as the head of the house. So many men who went to war never came home again. Besides the head of the household, the rest of the family are listed by sex and age groups. There are also columns asking if a family member was killed or died of desease in the war. As you read it you can see that there were as many people dying of disease as there were killed.
Another bit of information I picked up from this census confirmed what I had been told about my great-great-grandfather, Henry E. Hughes (1832-1909). My brother had told me that Henry didn't serve in the Civil War because he had “fits”. Now I didn't want to have an ancestor who had fits. That's all I needed. Anyway, the 1866 census lists Henry Hughes as having epilepsy – another mystery solved.
I want to use the rest of this article to try something. I've told you how much help people can be to each other. How about all of you doing research, send me a list of the people you are researching? We'll list them in a future article and you might be pleasantly surprised. Just don't think that someone will do the work for you. You will have to share information and I have to tell you that there are those who guard their research and will not share. Let's just try to see what we can come up with.
Contact me at if you have anything you'd like to share.
Until next week, happy hunting.

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