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Overheard on the Message Boards: "Off Year" New York Census Records
by Rhonda R. McClure

Each week Rhonda answers a question from the GenForum message boards and gives her expert answer here. We'd love to hear anything you have to add. Go ahead and leave your comments on GenForum with the original message.

October 31, 2002
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Q: I have a list of New York Censuses that were compiled in the "off years" such as 1845, 1855, 1865. Does anyone know how to access these? They would be very useful in tracking my great-grandfather across the US. -- Sharon

A: Most genealogists, if they have been researching for any time, are aware of the decenniel federal census. Begun in 1790, there has been one every ten years since then, though the 1890 was destroyed by fire and the most recently released census is the 1930, released in April, 2002.

What many researchers don't know is that many states took their own census enumerations over the years. These state censuses will, at the very least, help you establish an ancestor's residency in a given town or county.

State censuses offer enumerations in between federal census years.

State Census Records

The federal government began enumerating the population through the census so that it could keep track of the population for a number of reasons, including building the military and determining the respresentation in the government in Washington. District boundaries are redrawn sometimes after a census has been tabulated, for instance.

Some states have canvased for similar tabulations during off-federal census years. Some states, like Illinois and New York took census records half way between the federal decenniel census. When combined with the federal census research, you get a good picture of the family with only five year gaps instead of the traditional ten year gaps.

Other states, like the 13 original colonies, may have taken enumerations before the federal government began the federal enumerations. Not all states have taken state censuses and the information collected varies widely from state to state and sometimes from year to year.

Many researchers ignore those state census records that enumerated the individuals in a household as tally marks, much as the early federal censuses were enumerated. This is a mistake. While you may not be able to identify the individuals in the household by name, it may help you determine when a child left the household or when someone died. It's often much easier to search a five year span of time than it is to have to go through an entire ten years.

By far the best resource to learn more about the state census records is Ann Lainhart's State Census. This small book, published by Genealogical Publishing Company is packed with a great deal of information about the states that have taken their own enumerations. For each year that has been taken in a given state, Lainhart has detailed the questions asked and how the information is displayed - head of household or everyone in the household listed. Another important aspect to the book is where you can find these state census records. She has listed the state repositories where the records may be found and also indicates if the Family History Library has any of the state's census enumerations available.

New York State Census

The New York state census records are one of the better state census enumerations. Each year offers you information about everyone in the household. Some of them include relationship to the head of the household. In some instances you will find that the state census tells you not only that the individuals was born in the state of New York, but more specifically which county. The state censuses also offer you an indication as to how long a person has been in the given county in which they are now being enumerated.

Of course, none of this does you any good if you cannot find the state census enumerations in question. Fortunately, you will find many New York state census records available on microfilm through the Family History Library. This means that they are available to your local Family History Center for a nominal fee to cover the postage and handling. The bad news about the New York state census is that you will not find many of them indexed. You will also find that they are not all available online like we are coming to expect from the federal census records. However, you may want to check with the county in question in New York through the USGenWeb Project. If it is not available online, you might find that individuals who frequent the USGenWeb project site for that county have quick access to it. The USGenWeb Project pages for the counties in New York may also have begun to offer online indexes to the state censuses.

In Conclusion

Many researchers are unaware of the potential use of state census enumerations. Keep in mind that the state census enumerations have to do with the state in question for the year enumerated. In the case of New York, it will not enumerate someone who is living in Ohio in 1865. It will help you isolate approximately when the family migrated, though, if you discover them in Ohio in 1870 and they were in New York in 1860. If you can find them enumerated in the 1865 New York state census, then you know that they migrated to New York after that and before 1870. Take advantage of them, especially those that are available on microfilm through the Family History Library.

See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at

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