Federal versus State Census

The census in this blog series primarily focuses on is the Federal (National) census held every 10-years. Did you know that states sometimes conducted their own census? For example, New Jersey conducted their own census on years ending in a ‘5’ between 1855 and 1915. Three New Jersey censuses were also conducted (1726, 1737 and 1745).

There were several reasons for a state conducting a census in addition to the federal census. The primary reason is tied to many states before they achieved statehood. As mentioned in the first blog entry of this series representation in the US House of Representatives is based on the population in a state. Accurate population counts were necessary to ensure a newly admitted state had the proper number of representatives in congress. Therefore, a state was likely to conduct their own census (or several) shortly before achieving statehood.

Some states continued taking a census after statehood, but most discontinued the practice by 1915. South Dakota has the distinction of being the last state to conduct a state census in 1945. Performing a census is expensive and many states to cut expenses started relying on the Federal Census any needed data and statistical purposes.

What does this mean for a genealogy? Census records (Federal and State) are the backbone of most genealogical research in the United States and state censuses are often overlooked. They offer a glimpse of a household in the 10 years between the federal censuses. Perhaps household moved several times between a census? A state census might capture this. Maybe a child was born and died between federal censuses. That state census could be one or possibly the only record of this child’s existence. Some state census records also predate the first Federal Census in 1790.