1820 Census

The fourth census was taken under the provisions of an act of March 14, 1820. The enumeration began on the first Monday of August, and was scheduled to conclude within 6 calendar months; however, the time prescribed for completing the enumeration was extended to September 1, 1821. The 1820 census act required that enumeration should be by an actual inquiry at every dwelling house, or of the head of every family within each district.

As in 1810, the 1820 census attempted to collect industrial statistics. Data relating to manufactures were collected by the assistants, sent to the marshals, and then transmitted to the Secretary of State at the same time as the population returns. The report on manufactures presented the data for manufacturing establishments by counties, but the results were not summarized for each district and an aggregate statement was compiled as a result of incomplete returns. (The poor quality of manufacturing data was blamed partly on insufficient compensation for the collection of the data and the refusal of manufacturers to supply it).

The schedule of inquiries for 1820 called for the same age distribution of the free White population, as in 1800 and 1810, with the addition in 1820 of the number of free White males between 16 and 18 years. It also provided for a separation of the number of free colored persons and of slaves, respectively, by sex, according to the number under 14 years of age, of 14 and under 26, of 26 and under 45, and of 45 years and upward, with a statement of the number of "all other persons, except Indians not taxed." Additionally, inquiries were made to ascertain the number of foreigners not naturalized, and the number of persons (including slaves) engaged in agriculture, commerce, and manufactures.

The 1820 census covered the following states:

  1. Alabama7
  2. Arkansas Territory6
  3. Connecticut
  4. Delaware
  5. District of Columbia
  6. Georgia
  7. Illinois
  8. Indiana
  9. Kentucky
  10. Louisiana
  11. Maine
  12. Maryland
  13. Massachusetts
  14. Michigan Territory
  15. Mississippi
  16. Missouri Territory6
  17. New Hampshire
  18. New Jersey6
  19. New York
  20. North Carolina
  21. Ohio
  22. Pennsylvania
  23. Rhode Island
  24. South Carolina
  25. Tennessee5
  26. Vermont
  27. Virginia4

Schedules for some counties are missing.

4 Virginia included present day West Virginia.

5 Tennessee included 2 federal district courts, that of Knoxville and Nashville. All of the schedules appear to be lost for the Knoxville district.

6 Total losses of census occurred with the Arkansas Territory, Missouri Territory and New Jersey.

7 Partial losses of census occurred with specific counties in Alabama. Records exist for only 8 of the thirty enumerated counties: Baldwin, Conecuh, Dallas, Franklin, Limestone, St. Clair, Shelby, and Wilcox..


Information Found Within the 1820 Census

  • Name of Head of Household
  • Name of the county, parish, township, town, or city where the family resides
  • Number of free white males and free white females in specific age categories
  • Number of free other males and free other females in specific age categories (not Native American)
  • Name of a slave owner and number of slaves owned by that person
  • Number of male and female slaves by age categories
  • Number of foreigners (not naturalized) in a household
  • Manufacturing Data

Manufacturing data varied widely in the 1820 census. Congress though issuing the instructions to collect such data, failed to inform the marshals and their assistants as to what questions to act. Most of these schedules have been lost, except for the few that were bound with the population schedules.


Genealogy Strategy for the 1820 Census

The 1820 census expanded the number of questions asked by the census taker, to include those on naturalization, type of employment, and broke down the number of other free persons as well as the number and sometimes ages of slaves in a household.

  1. Establishing the Composition of a Family
    While it does not provide names, or exact ages, the 1820 census does provide an idea of the composition of each family. In it you can find the number of members of the family, their approximate age, and their sex. By using other resources, such as vital records, wills, and land records you can establish further details on each person in the household, and compile further information like their exact name, birth, marriage and death information.
  2. Tracking the Head of Household
    The 1820 census provides the name of the head of household. This will be useful for tracking this family in future census.
  3. Location of the Household
    As in all census, the location of the household at the time the census was taken becomes a valuable tool for further research allowing you to concentrate on records of that time period in that particular location. The 1820 census will provide you the exact county, parish, township, town, or city where the family resides.
  4. Relatives
    It is possible to identify relatives by looking at the census for the nearest neighbors to your ancestor. However, in certain cases, the census was rewritten so that the census appears in alphabetical order2.
  5. Manufacturing
    Further information may be obtained from the separate microfilm rolls of the 1820 manufacturing schedules. The question on the 1820 census will provide an idea of the type of occupation your ancestor was in. Over 83% of all listed occupations were in agriculture (2,064,282), 3% in commerce (71,559) and 14% in manufacturing (346,845)3.
  6. Slave Research
    Slaves were identified by the number and age of such in a household. There were a total of 1,529,012 slaves enumerated in the 1820 census of the United States3. Researchers who have identified a slave holder of a possible ancestor should then consult probate or tax records for possible further identity of specific individuals. Because there are ages given with the slaves, the genealogist is now better able (with verification from additional records) to determine the birth order in families, especially where names and sex of all members of a slave family are known.
  7. Freedmen Research
    Freed colored persons were identified by number and age of such in a household. There were a total of 229,620 freedmen enumerated in the 1820 census of the United States3.
  8. Native American Research
    It is possible to find your Native American ancestor in the 1820 census only if they were residing in an area being taxed. If this is the case, then your ancestor would be enumerated as any other tax paying citizen was.
  9. Foreigners
    Foreigners not naturalized can assist a researcher in identifying the approximate length of time a family may have resided in the United States. There were a total of 52,434 foreigners not naturalized recorded in the 1820 census of the United States3.
  10. Males over 16 and under 18
    The addition of the age column of 16-18 along with still retaining the 16-26 is cause for frequent miscalculations by genealogists and family historians. A male listed in the 16-18 column was also supposed to be listed in the 16-26 column. So in calculating the total members of a family you should disregard this column. It is probable, and most likely, however, that there are instances where the marshal or their assistant did not properly follow the instructions of Congress. The genealogist however, should follow the instructions unless he can prove that the marshal or their assistant did not follow proper instructions as it pertained to this column.


1820 Census Forms


1820 Census Records Online



  1. Carrol D. Wright and William C. Hunt, The History and Growth of the United States Census. Government Printing Office: Washington, DC, 1900. p.17
  2. The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy, Revised Edition, Edited by Loretto Dennis Szucs and Sandra Hardgreaves Luebking, 1997. Ancestry, Inc., Salt Lake City, Utah.
  3. Source: Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research. Study 00003: Historical Demographic, Economic, and Social Data: U.S., 1790-1970. Anne Arbor: ICPSR.
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