And we’re back! Continuing our short series on Finding Your Mequon Roots. If you missed the first part of the series, I suggest you click here and read that first.
Part 1 was all about one of my favorite first-look documents when doing genealogy or local history research, the decennial U.S. Federal Census population schedule. The first census that exists for Annie Becker and her parents was the census of 1900. Click here for a full size image of the census page.
If you are like most folks, you will scan the big page and zoom in on the family you are seeking. Here is the Becker family in 1900 on lines 32 to 34 of that page:
The US census population schedules have changed over the decades. Since the 1850 census, each form has asked for the name of every person enumerated, as well as other information that the Census Bureau or the Congress felt necessary or useful for the purposes of creating or revising congressional districts as well as collecting a variety of immigration and economic data. If you go to this NARA site, you can find downloadable PDFs of blank copies all the census forms from 1790 through 1940. They are easy to read and you can print them out and use them to record data from any census records that you are researching.
The 1900 census population schedule is one of the most informative of all. Some of the columns are pretty self-explanatory, some less so. So look near the top of the page:
and with that as a guide, we can see on line 34 that Annie Becker was the daughter of Nic. and Elizabeth Becker. She was white, female and born in July, 1882. Her age at her last birthday (before the census was enumerated) was 17 and she was single (unmarried). The next three columns are empty, since she had no “number of years married” and she had not given birth to any children, living or dead.
Annie was born in Wisconsin, and her father and mother were born in Germany. The next three columns are blank, since Annie was a native born citizen of the U.S. But if you look just above this spot, you can see that Nic. Becker immigrated to the U.S. in 1852, had lived in the U.S. for 48 years, and was a nationalized citizen. Nic’s wife, Elizabeth had immigrated eight years earlier, in 1844, and had lived in the country for 56 years. Pause for a moment to compare immigration dates and birth years. This tells you that Nic. was about 21 years old when he immigrated, but Elizabeth was only about two years old when she arrived in the U.S.
Note that Elizabeth had not become a naturalized citizen. Since women did not yet have the vote, it was not considered necessary for most women to obtain U.S. citizenship, and married women were considered citizens if their husbands were citizens. (The history of U.S. citizenship and naturalization law and policy is very complicated with many changes since 1790. For lots of useful information, click this Family Search link.)
Returning to Annie’s census form, we see that in 1900 she worked as a Servant, either for her father (who worked as a farmer), or perhaps as a farm or domestic servant for another family. The next two blank boxes indicate that Annie was employed for all 12 months of the census year and did not attend school during that time. The three “yes” answers indicate that she can read and write, and speak English.
The next three boxes are empty and not applicable for Annie, but are relevant for Nic. (line 32), as head of household. They indicate that he owned his farm (rather than rented), he owned free (rather that owing on a mortgage), and he owned a farm (rather than a non-farm home of some kind).
The last box on line 32 shows that Nic’s farm was further enumerated on line 119 of the 1900 agricultural schedule for this area. This was one of what were known as non-population census forms. It listed many details about kinds and amounts of crops each farmer grew, what livestock he raised and gathered further information about products grown or made at the farm, such as milk, cheese, fruit, nuts and so on. NARA has another helpful link if you are interested in the details of the non-population schedules. Unfortunately, once the data had been extracted, collated and published in aggregate, the individual 1900 and 1910 agricultural schedules were destroyed. But many of the individual agricultural schedules still exist for 1850, 1860, 1870 and 1880 (and 1885 for states that took an 1885 state census), and they provide much interesting information about farms and farmers of those decades.
So that’s quite a bit of information from one government form. As always, all information, including census information, needs to be checked and re-checked. But since answers to the census form were mandatory and confidential, the census is often one of the more reliable and informative historical sources we have (as long as the census enumerator was literate and had legible handwriting, which was not always the case).
And yet, there’s still a bit more we can get from this census page. For more on that, see our next post.