A Closer Look at the 1830 US Federal Census

The 1830 US federal census is a unique snapshot in time, showing us what the country and our relatives looked like at that one moment in time. Despite not recording the names of every family member—only heads of households—it still provides some truly valuable genealogical information. Here’s what you should know about the 1830 US federal census.

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The 1830 US federal census was the fifth one conducted by the US government. It began being enumerated on June 1, 1830. Unlike earlier censuses, which experienced a significant loss of records over the centuries, the 1830 US federal census is only missing records from a few counties. These missing counties are all in Massachusetts, Maryland, and Mississippi. This means that this census will be of great genealogical value to most researchers who are doing American genealogy.

Like the four censuses that came before it, the 1830 US federal census only records the names of the heads of households. Beginning genealogists should not take this to mean that the census is of no use to them. There are other columns besides “name” on this census, each of which can provide valuable genealogical information, not only on the named head of household, but on the unnamed individual members of a household, and of individual families as a whole. It can even provide important information on neighborhoods and counties that can be of use to any person conducting American genealogical research.

This census showed that the population of the United States in 1830 was almost thirteen million. Of these thirteen million, a little over two million were slaves. Grant County, West Virginia served as the center of population for the country at this time. This was the first US census that recorded any individual city having a population of more than two hundred thousand. In this case, it was New York City.

The following questions were asked on the 1830 US federal census:

  • The name of the head of the household
  • The address of the enumerated dwelling place
  • The number of free white males and females in a household from infants to age twenty, in five-year age groups
  • The number of free white males and females in a household from ages twenty to one hundred, in ten-year age groups
  • The number of free white males and females in a household age one hundred and older
  • The total number of slaves and free African-American people in a household, grouped into six different age groups. Census returns for slaves and free African-Americans are recorded on the opposite page of the census book for this census than for white people.
  • The number of deaf and/or mute people in a household under fourteen years old, from fourteen to twenty-four years old, and age twenty-five and older
  • The number of blind people in a household
  • The number of un-naturalized foreigners in a household

Using this information, genealogists doing American genealogical research can discover the following things about their American ancestors in 1830:

  • Identify where an ancestor lived
  • Distinguish the family of one’s ancestors from other nearby ones with the same or similar names
  • Learn the size of a family in 1830
  • Learn the location of other potential ancestors or relatives with the same surname
  • Learn the names of neighbors of one’s ancestors, which can be useful in finding records that mention one’s ancestors, such as the wills and land records of the neighbors, and of mentions of the neighbors in old newspaper records.
  • Learn which ancestors, if any, were slaveholders, and who in a neighborhood was a slaveholder
  • Discover variations in the spelling of first and last names that might have otherwise been previously unknown. These alternate spellings can help identify these ancestors in other records, including later censuses.
  • Learn the names of free African-American men who were heads of their households
  • Learn the age groups of slaves held by slaveholders
  • Learn the length of residency of immigrants in the United States, as the naturalization column sometimes records it (but not always). This information can be used to help find immigration and naturalization papers for that ancestor.

The 1830 US federal census was the first one to use printed forms, rather than hand-drawn ones. This made it easier for census enumerators to record information while in the field, and also made it easier for tabulators to record and summarize the information provided in those forms.

Age groups are broken into smaller groups in this census than in previous ones, which can assist in identifying wives and children who are not named. This is also the first census to list the number of deaf, blind, and mute people in a household, and to also include slaves in those categories.

This census was taken during a time of great change in the United States. Andrew Jackson was the US president, and he was waging a campaign of extermination against the indigenous Native Americans. Many conflicts with the Native Americans and the US government happened during this time. The infamous Trail of Tears, where eastern-based Native Americans were force-marched from their homes to new settlements in the mid-west, happened the year after this census was taken.

The territory of the United States was also expanding, with explorations going into areas of the Louisiana Purchase from two decades prior, and people beginning to settle these areas in earnest. Manifest Destiny was the rule of the time. Parts of the United States that had previously been inaccessible, or difficult to reach, were now easily visited with the coming of the railroad to the country. It began being expanded farther and farther west, making migration a much simpler process for those with the means to use it, and bringing supplies to remote areas became easier, as well. This opened up vast swaths of the continent to US settlers who wished to find areas with more land available to them and new economic opportunities.

When you use the 1830 US federal census in your genealogical research, you are looking at a snapshot of your family as it was in that year. You can also place your family in the context of the United States as a whole during this time of change and technological progress. It is a valuable genealogical tool, and one that anyone doing American genealogy research should have at their own disposal.

Download the 1830 Census Blank Form to help you in your research.