On 2 August 1790, shortly after the inauguration of President Washington, the first enumeration commenced. Congress assigned the duties of the enumeration to the marshals of US judicial districts. The law required that every household be visited and that completed census schedules be posted in “two of the most public places within [each jurisdiction], there to remain for the inspection of all concerned . . .” and that “the aggregate amount of each description of persons” for every district be transmitted to the President.
It is presumed that the Secretary of State (Thomas Jefferson), acting under the authority of the President (George Washington), sent the marshals within each state, copies of the census act, and the required inquiries. The marshals then incorporated these inquiries into “schedules” of their own design. Neither paper nor form was ever supplied to these marshals, and this accounts for the differences in the copies of the available census. Each marshal and/or their assistant was responsible for copying and posting the census in two public places in their assigned areas. The hope was that those who viewed them while they were posted, would check for accuracies or omissions.
The 1790 census covered the following states:
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New York
- North Carolina
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
Information Found Within the 1790 Census
- Head of Household
- Number of Free White males of 16 years and upward
- Number of Free White males under 16 years
- Number of Free White females
- Number of All other free persons (by sex and color)
- Number of slaves
Genealogy Strategy for the 1790 Census
Due to it’s early nature the 1790 census provides the littlest of “meat” for the genealogist as it only names the head of the household and provides a range of ages for all other occupants of the house. The content of the census directly indicates the name of the head of household, and the location of the family, but indirectly can be used to direct future research.
- Establishing the Composition of a Family
While it does not provide names, or exact ages, the 1790 census does provide an idea of the composition of each family. In it you can find the number of members of the family, their approximate age, and their sex. By using other resources, such as vital records, wills, and land records you can establish further details on each person in the household, and compile further information like their exact name, birth, marriage and death information.
- Tracking the Head of Household
The 1790 census provides the name of the head of household. This will be useful for tracking this family in future census.
- Location of the Household
As in all census, the location of the household at the time the census was taken becomes a valuable tool for further research allowing you to concentrate on records of that time period in that particular location. The 1790 census will provide you the exact town or/and county of the household.
- Multiple Listings
It is possible, though highly unlikely, that your ancestor may have been listed twice. Though most marshals had submitted their census on time, there were a few late, which cause Congress to extend the deadline of submission until 1792.
- Slave Research
Slaves were identified by the number of such in a household. There were a total of 694,207 slaves enumerated in the 1790 census of the United States3. Researchers who have identified a slave holder of a possible ancestor should then consult probate or tax records for possible further identity of specific individuals.
- Native American Research
It is possible to find your Native American ancestor in the 1790 census only if they were residing in an area being taxed. If this is the case, then your ancestor would be enumerated as any other tax paying citizen was.
1790 Census Forms
- Free 1790 Census Form for your Research
The census for the following states were burned during the War of 1812: Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, New Jersey, Tennessee, and Virginia. Attempts have been made to reconstruct these census. ↩
Maine was part of Massachusetts at the time of the 1790 census. ↩