The 1790 census provides the earliest look at our ancestors in the census records. The 1790 census provides clues to our ancestor’s family and neighborhood.
Finding James Harward in the 1790 census was such a thrill for me. You see, James is one of my favorite ancestors. The Harward family line was one of the first family lines I traced back as a new genealogist. You could say I “cut my genealogy teeth” on the Harward family line.
That 1790 census record numbers challenged me at first, but shed light on the young James Harward family.
A Close Up Look at the 1790 Census
A Little History First
1790 was the first census year and was established by Congress. Marshals in each judicial district were responsible for collecting census data. Each household was required to be visited and at its completion, the census was posted in a 2 public places to be viewed by the public. The census was then sent to the president – George Washington. [Get more out of your census research by exploring Census.gov.]
One of the first things you will notice as you start your research into the 1790 census is the headings. They are handwritten – and difficult to read. Sometimes the column headings were only written on the first page. This is not a pre-printed form. The census taker created the form as part of the process. [Learn how the photo editing site PicMonkey can help you read “hard to read” documents.]
The headings for the 1790 census record were:
- Head of household
- Free white males 16 years and upward
- Free white males under 16 years
- Free white females
- All other free persons
Your First Glance at the 1790 Census
First impressions are important. Look at the census page for you ancestor as a whole. Does anything stand out? Are the listings alphabetized or not? Why is this important? If the names recorded are not alphabetized, you are looking at your ancestor’s neighbors. The census taker went house to house and recorded the families in order of his visit. Keep in mind the “neighbors” may not have been next door neighbors, but you will get a sense of the neighborhood.
The 1790 census entry for James Harward shows something a bit unique.
The entries are alphabetically listed by first name. (James and John were common first names!) Usually, if a list is alphabetized, it is done by the surname.
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Your Ancestor’s 1790 Census Enumeration
James Harward is found on the 1790 census in Wake County, North Carolina as “James Harrod”. Obviously spelling is was fluid and prone to many variations. Be open to a variety of spellings of your ancestor’s name.
The Harward/Harrod household included:
- 2 free white males under 16
- 1 free white male over 16 [This would be James.]
- 2 free white females. [One female would be Rosannah, James’s wife.]
This is a young family of 5, but who are those unnamed males and females?! While the 1790 census does not provide the names everyone, research into a Family Bible, wills, estate records, etc can establish who the other family members are.
Even though this particular census record is alphabetized by first name, looking at the other entries revealed James was living close to his brother John Harrod and a brother-in-law Joseph Barbee. Had I not known the relationship of these men to James, I would have made note of other Harwards/Harrods in the census and researched accordingly.
Where to Find Census Records
Census records are common genealogical records to search and readily available. Sources for census records include:
Related Census Posts
- A Close Up Look At The 1880 Census
- Back to Genealogy Basics: 1900’s Census Records
- How To Use The Pre-1850 Census to Find Your Female Ancestors