Why is the 1850 US Census so important?

The 1850 US census was the seventh federal census conducted. It also has the distinction of the first US census that captures all members (men, women and children) of a household by name and their place of birth. Censuses prior to 1850 did not capture all of the household members by name. Before 1850, only the head of the household (free male over 18) was listed and anyone else in the household was indicated as a categorical checkmark.

Since 1850, all US censuses collect at a minimum the names of all individuals in a household. To anyone who only conducted US research after 1850, it can be easy to take for granted that all the members of a household are indicated by name. This change with the 1850 census and all subsequent US censuses since unknowingly revolutionized genealogical research.

Why is this important to genealogical research? Women and children were now identifiable in the census. This helps speed up the process of identifying correct households! Especially in a community that has several John Smiths who are all 30 years old, all married, and all have 5 children. If you know the name of John’s wife and/or some of these children, this can help narrow down and eliminate unrelated John Smith households in the census records.