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What the enumerators were told

What’s an “inmate” on a United States census return?

Who was listed as the “head of household”?

What was a “housekeeper”?

And why in the world isn’t the however-many-great-grandaunt born in May listed on the 1910 census?

The answers to all of these questions have driven The Legal Genealogist‘s research … and can sometimes drive us all batty.

But they don’t need to slow you down one bit.

Because there’s an easy way to get the answers to all of those questions and many many more.

Read the directions.

gauthierIn 2002, Jason Gauthier of the U.S. Census Bureau’s Economics and Statistics Administration produced one of the most singularly useful publications a genealogist can ever have in a toolkit. It’s available as a downloadable PDF file, directly from the U.S. Census Bureau website, and it’s called Measuring America: The Decennial Census from 1790 to 2000.1

What makes this 148-page document so valuable is that it sets out, in detail, exactly what the census takers were told to do for each and every U.S. census from the first census in 1790 all the way up to the census of 2000.

Sure, we all know that the enumerator might not have done what he was supposed to do — but knowing what it was that he was supposed to do is often a real help in understanding the records.

Reading the directions lets us know just what a term like “inmate” meant in the context of the census — because we can read the exact instructions that were given to the census takers. (And, by the way, those instructions changed between 1850 and 1870.)2

It tells us what a housekeeper was in the context of the census.3 And why “Indians not taxed” weren’t included in the enumerations.4 And even why that however-many-great-grandaunt didn’t make it onto the census in 1910. (She was born in May, remember… and the enumeration date was 1 April that year.)5

It’s a free download. You can read it with free PDF reading software.There are even free PDF-reader apps for tablets and phones.

So there’s no excuse.

Go do it.


Read the directions.


  1. Jason G. Gauthier, Measuring America: The Decennial Census from 1790 to 2000 (Washington, D.C. : U.S. Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration, U.S. Census Bureau, 2002); PDF download, U.S. Census Bureau ( : accessed 22 Nov 2015).
  2. See Judy G. Russell, “Of inmates and families,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 19 Aug 2014 ( : accessed 22 Nov 2015).
  3. See ibid., “The other housekeeper,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 16 Jan 2015.
  4. See ibid., “Indians not taxed,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 13 Mar 2015.
  5. See Gauthier, Measuring America: The Decennial Census from 1790 to 2000, PDF at 112.
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