United States Census Accuracy

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Saturday Evening Post cartoon satarizing the sensitivity of 1860 census questions.
United States  >  U.S. Census  >  Accuracy

Most census information is usually reliable. Residence information on the census is especially believable because a census taker visited each household.

But some of the questions asked about sensitive topics such as ages, family wealth, or deaf, dumb, blind, idiotic, insane, or convicted family members (see cartoon[1]). Some information such as birthplace of parents may not have been easy to recall.

Use census information with caution, since the information may have been given to a census taker by any member of the family, or by a neighbor. Some information may have been incorrect or deliberately falsified. Compare, contrast, and correlate each census population schedule with those of other census years, and with non-census documents to get the most accurate picture of the family history.


  1. Saturday Evening Post, 18 August 1860, reprinted in United States, Bureau of the Census, Twenty Censuses: Population and Housing Questions, 1790-1980 (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1979)(FHL book 973 X2u), 6.