The decennial U.S. Census is conducted every 10 years as a way to enumerate, or count, the population of the country. Between the decennial censuses, any “government unit” can request a Special Census to enumerate population, housing units, and group quarters in a particular location. A “government unit” can be a state, parish, city, political subdivision, American Indian Reservation, or Alaskan Native village. Of course a lot can happen in 10 years, so a Special Census may record those changes in between decennial censuses.
Non-Population Censuses are a form of Special Census that records things other than the normal census data. The types of Non-Population Censuses that are conducted can give you all kinds of additional information about your family history. Below are the types that could help you discover more about your ancestors. I use Ancestry.com database to search the Special Census.
Slave Schedules may be incredibly helpful for African- Americans looking for more information about their family history. In 1850 and 1860, the Census recorded slave schedules including the name of the owner, location, and number of slaves, their ages, and their sexes. Slave schedules were not included in the 1870 census, following Emancipation. Unfortunately, not many of these records include the personal names but were numbered by the enumerators. Only the slaves that were over one hundred years old were sometimes listed by their given name. If the name of a slave owner is known, you may be able to find out what the farm was like where your ancestors labored. Slave schedules are available by searching the National Archives and various African-American ancestry databases online.
Between 1850 and 1880, Agricultural Schedules kept track of farms, including the name of the farm owner, amount of crops or number of livestock produced, the value of the farm, the acres of land and other holdings, and also to verify and document black sharecroppers and white overseers not listed in other records.
They identified free black men and their property holdings. They may also include neighboring properties, which can be helpful if other records of land ownership have been lost.
Mortality Schedules can be found with the population schedules for years 1850-1880, and they record every death that occurred in the year before the Census was taken. The Mortality Schedule includes details like name, sex, race, age, birthplace, month of death, marital status, age at time of death, and cause of death. If other records, such as death certificates or obituaries are unavailable, Mortality Schedules can fill in the gaps.
While much of the information in Special and Non-Population Censuses is specialized and may not be useful for everyone, the details provided can correlate other information or even fill in gaps where the more commonly used records are missing. Special Census records are stored in the National Archives, or possibly in the state archives where your family lived. Every little clue you can collect may lead to another one, so having all the information possible will ensure that you can paint the most complete picture possible.
by Leonard Smith