How to Read a 1790 U.S. Census Form

December 8, 2018  - by 

A 1790 census record can give you a small snapshot into your 1790 ancestor’s family and lifestyle. Although the handwriting might seem hard to decipher at first, 1790 census forms are simple and can be very easy to navigate.

Use this quick guide to help you find your early U.S. ancestors in the census and learn a little more about them.

1790 Census Record at a Glance

The 1790 census has the following information about each household a census taker visited: 

    How to read a 1790 census form
  • Name of the head of the household or the head of the family.
  • Number of free white males ages 16 years and older, including heads of families.
  • Number of free white males under 16 years of age.
  • Number of free white females, including heads of families.
  • Number of all other free persons in the household (except nontaxed Indians).
  • Number of slaves in the household.

1790 census records will also have a location written somewhere on the page to indicate where that census was taken. The census location and head of household name can help you identify your family on a 1790 census record and give you clues about where the family lived.

The arrangement of families on a census schedule was normally in the order in which the census taker visited the households. So the names next to your ancestor might be the neighbors.

What If the Record I Found Doesn’t Look Like This One?

Census takers for the 1790 census actually created their own forms, following instructions from Congress. Because of this variability, individual 1790 census forms may look slightly different from one another. The census forms should still contain the same basic information, but you might find some records with information beyond what was required by Congress.

Examples of different 1790 census records:

Swedish family history and genealogy Common Swedish surnames and their meanings
Swedish church records for genealogy Swedish church records for genealogy

Try It Yourself: Search the 1790 Census

On FamilySearch.org, you can search the 1790 United States census for free. The search results will show you information that has been extracted from the record (such as names and locations), and you can also see the actual images of the census records.

Looking at an image, you can find your ancestor’s name, how many people were in the household, and what the makeup of the household was (male or female, old or young, slave or free).

Finding your ancestor in the 1790 census can put you on the path to important discoveries about your family! To learn more about searching the census, read “How to Find Families in the 1790 Census” on the FamilySearch blog.

1790 U.S. Census

Learn about the 1790 U.S. census records.

1790 U.S. census

Find People in the 1790 Census

How to find your family in the 1790 U.S. census.

1790 Census genealogy


Sharon is a retired IT executive and enjoys keeping up with and writing about advancements in genealogy-related technology. She is currently serving as a writing missionary for FamilySearch. She and her husband live in Virginia.

 

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Comments

  1. The census record for my ancestor is listed in alphabetic order. This would clearly be a transcript of the original record taken in household order. Is there any chance that this original household order record could have been saved?

    1. Dirk Its me Rhonda my ss# is still in your last name that’s all I have left of you I loved you so much still do I will be going to heaven soon I am very sick god takes good care of me I wish you were still here I miss you so much honey I hope you will be waiting for me love you babe , forever and till we meet again forever my love in my heart will always be there .Rhonda lynn Stephenson that is still my name

  2. Censes records are extremely unreliable and flawed. Only a fool would trust one unless they had extremely strong evidence that’s it’s true

    1. All types of vital and census records are flawed; it’s the nature of the beast. But they are great clues to your family and can be used as steppingstones to further information. Take everything with a grain of salt–not as the absolute truth.

  3. I HAD MY DNA TESTED ON ANCESTRY AND ON BOTH FAMILY TREE DNA KITS. I WAS SHOCKED TO FIND OUT THAT THE RESULTS WERE FALSE BECAUSE THE DNA CANNOT BE TESTED IN POLAND WHERE MY ENTIRE FAMILY ALL SIDES COME FROM SINCE WAY BACK IN THE 1700. I FEEL THAT BOTH ANCESTRY AND FAMILY SEARCH SHOULD REFUND ANY DNA TESTS THAT WERE DONE ON EASTERN EUROPE PEOPLE BUT THAT WILL NEVER HAPPEN.

  4. I believe the tagged image on how to read the 1790 census has interchanged the number of free white males over 16 with the free white males under 16.

  5. Hi, i ‘m from Australia. There are 2 exact matches to my family name along with addresses in the 1790 census data. Can you suggest the next move to find the country they or their parents or grandparents arrived from please?
    The family name is EMMINS: would your experience lead you to suggest a Polish, German, or other (Please specify)heritage?
    Thank you for any input/ suggestions/advice.
    Best wishes,
    Alyson