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Guide To Reading Census Abstracts

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For the purpose of this short guide, abstracting census data means we collect and record all the important information about each member of the enumerated family. One can use any system they choose, but here is the one we use. You will find abstracts by clicking on the keys for census citatations in personal page footnotes.

To conserve space, many data elements that are common and repetitive are abbreviated. Some abbreviations are quite obvious (e.g., dau for daughter), while the rest are easily learned from the table. Stylistically, we list last name, first name and middle initial (if reported), all in capital letters with no punctuation.

Example of a 1900 US Census Extract:

Church Street
BISBEE CHENEY hd wh m b.MAR1835 ae65 M43y b.NY fb.OH mb.NY day laborer owns/home/free
BISBEE CALISTA wife wh f b.MAY1837 ae63 M43y 7ch/6surv b.NY fb.CT mb.RI
BISBEE ERVIN son wh m b.DEC1877 ae22 S b.PA fb.NY mb.NY carpenter
HALL WILLIS son-in-law wh m b.MAY1860 ae40 M16y b.PA fb.NY mb.PA day laborer
HALL NETTIE dau wh f b.JUN1864 ae35 M16y 1ch/1surv b.NY fb.NY mb.NY
HALL HAROLD grson wh m b.MAR1894 ae6 S b.PA fb.PA mb.NY.
BISBEE ADELBERT son wh m b.MAY1869 ae31 W b.PA fb.NY mb.NY mill laborer
BISBEE MARGERY grdau wh f b.JUL1897 ae2 S b.PA fb.PA mb.NY
BISBEE PEARL grdau wh f b.JAN1885 ae15 S b.PA fb.NY mb.PA

Abbreviation Expansion Examples * Explanation
ae age ae23=23 years old;
ae2y3mo=age 2 years and 3 months;
1Mae26=first marriage at age 26.
att sch attended school att sch 4mo=attended school 4 months.
Usually refers to attendance within the census year.
b. born b.NY=born in NY;
b.JAN1892=born in January 1892.
bl black (Negro) (race)
ch children 3ch/2surv=had 3 children, two are still living
D divorced (marital status)
dau daughter (relationship to head of household)
f female (sex)
fb. father born fb.GER=father born in Germany
G (1940) elementary grade highest elementary grade completed (G8=eighth grade)
grson grandson (relationship to head of household)
H (1940) highschool grade highest grade completed (H2=two years high school)
hd head of household  
imm immigrated to the U.S. imm1844=immigrated to U.S. in 1844
inUS lived in the U.S. inUS26y=lived in the U.S. for 26 years
m male (sex)
M married M6y=married for 6 years;
2M12y=married twice, this time for 12 years
1Mae26=first married at age 26
MAR work history MAR/52=52 hours worked March 24-30, 1940
mb. mother born mb.foreign=mother of foreign birth
nat naturalized citizen (immigration status)
PE value of personal estate PE500=personal estate valued at $500
RE value of real estate RE1600=value of real estate is $1600
S single (marital status)
W widowed (marital status)
wh white (Caucasian) (race)
1935 residence in 1935 1935/same place (1940 census)
1939 1939 work history 1939/52wks/$1450 (1940 census)

Here is an example of how we might abstract a pre-1850 US census where only the head of household is listed by name. The data in parens is a best guess based on other information about the family.

Household as of 1 June 1840.
1 male under 5 (Curtis ae1)
2 males 5 to 9 (Cheney ae5) (Albert ae6)
1 male 30 to 39 (Joseph ae37)
1 female under 5 (Ruth Ann ae2)
1 female 10 to 14 (?Thaddeus ae10?)
1 female 30 to 39 (Sally Ann ae34)
1 female 40 to 49 (Charlotte Taylor ae45)
Total of 8 persons, one engaged in agriculture. 

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