A Closer Look at the 1860 Census: Checking Ages and Dates
As we did for their 1850 census, I thought we should do the math and check whether the enumerator got everyone’s correct age on the Clark family’s 1860 census schedule. And do the ages agree with the Clark “Family Record” and other Clark family documents and known facts, including their 1850 census schedule?
First, examine the Clark’s 1860 census page header. It was enumerated by Assistant Marshall (for the census) Hugo Boclo and covered the “Free Inhabitants in the town of Mequon in the County of Ozaukee State of Wisconsin enumerated by me, on the 20th day of July. 1860.”
“United States Census, 1860,” database with images, FamilySearch […] Wisconsin > Ozaukee > Mequon > image 67 of 87; from “1860 U.S. Federal Census – Population,” database, Fold3.com (http://www.fold3.com : n.d.); citing NARA microfilm publication M653 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.). Click to open larger image in new window.
As in other U.S federal censuses, there was an official enumeration date; in 1860 it was June 1 (see column 3, header). But enumerator Boclo was not able to actually visit the Clark farm and write down their census information until July 20, 1860. So did Boclo enter the ages of the family members based on the June 1 or the July 20 date? It seems like a small matter, but it could cause confusion when assessing the accuracy of this and other documents.
Using the birth dates given in the Clark “Family Record” —and as we discussed further in Meet the Children (part 1)—let’s compare the census ages we would expect to be recorded, both based on the official June 1st, 1860, census date and compared to the ages we would find on a “real date” calculation based on the actual July 20, 1860 enumeration date (ages given in years/months/days format):
Click to open larger table in new window.
The good news—for the genealogist or historian—is that the Clark family “age” information recorded on the 1860 census is quite consistent with the ages recorded on the Clark family’s 1850 census and in the Clark “Family Record” and other documents..
In 1850, the actual enumeration date for the Clark family was October 7, 1850, four months after the “official” enumeration date of June 1, 1850. That required us to compare the known Clark family birth dates with the ages recorded on the census schedule, put those into a year/month/day calculator, compare the results, and conclude that the 1850 enumerator had recorded family ages based on the October 7, 1850, date.
In 1860, enumerator Hugo Boclo took less time to cover his census area than his 1850 predecessor, so there is a much shorter gap between the official and actual dates of enumeration. As a result, there are no instances where the Clark family ages—expressed in years—differ between the two possible 1860 enumeration dates.
This 1860 census is also the first federal decennial census appearance for the three youngest Clark children, daughters Laura, Josephine (Josie), and Jenny (Jennie). All of their 1860 enumerated ages agree with their birth dates as recorded in the Clark “Family Record” and elsewhere.
One interesting “error” (?) from 1850 repeats itself on this 1860 census. Once again, Mary’s age is rounded down to 39, even though she was actually 40 years old before June 1, 1860.
One other point of interest on this document, Mary Clark’s brother and boarder, Benjamin Turck, is enumerated as Benjamin Turks (sic) age 21. How correct is Benjamin’s age? That turns out to be more difficult to answer than one might expect.
Benjamin was the last child of Peter Turck and Rachael (Gay) Turck, and their only child born in Wisconsin. All sources that I have seen state that he was born in 1839. Considering that he lived until 1926, you’d think there would be a more accurate record of his birth day or month, but no, 1839 is all the information I’ve got. (His 1900 U.S. census form would include the month and year of his birth but, for some reason, I have not been able to locate that document.)
So the short answer is that all sources agree that Benjamin was born in the year 1839, and on the 1860 census he is recorded as being 21 years old. Knowing that, and knowing that the 1860 census “ages” are calculated from either the official census date of June 1, 1860 or the actual date of the family’s enumeration on July 20th, we can calculate backwards and make a reasonable assumption that Benjamin Turck was born after January 1, 1839 and, either:
- before June 1, 1839 (calculating backward from June 1, 1860) or
- before July 20, 1839 (calculating backward from July 20, 1860)
This is our last look at the Clark family’s summer, 1860, federal census. Less than a year later eldest daughter Caroline Clark will marry, the nation will be riven by the Civil War, and by 1862 Mary and the other children will have left the farm for life in the city.
P. S. Measuring date-to-date was once a difficult and error-prone task. It’s amazing how often families and gravestone carvers got it right. If you’d like to calculate your own date-to-date durations —or check my calculations—here’s a link to a really useful calculator.
P. P. S. Speaking of dates, as I was doing the calculations for the Clark birthdates and ages, I noticed a non-random curiosity in the Clark childrens’ birth months; all of the Clark children were born in either February, May or October/early-November:
- February: Henry (1843), Elizabeth (1845)
- May: Theresa (1850), Laura (1852), Jennie (1857)
- October: Persie (1847), Josie (1854)
- early-November: Caroline (1840),
Roughly calculated, nine months before February is May, nine months before May is August, and nine months prior to October/November is January/February. Make of that what you will.
UPDATED: July 24, 2020 to fix some odd spacing in the table of Clark family ages on the two possible census dates. (I don’t know why, but WordPress sometimes does really weird things with table spacing after publishing. So I replaced the original table data with an image of the table, including correct layout.)