Sunday, September 4, 2011

Marriage Hints in the US Census

Censuses are commonly used to find names, birth years, occupations, and family members.  How much do you use them for marriage information?

1850 Census

The 1850 Census, the first to list people other than the head of household, contains an often overlooked bit of information.  Column 10 asks whether the individual was married within the year.

The following example shows that David S Woollery and Caroline were married during 1850.image
The enumerator’s instructions do not say whether “within the year” means the calendar year or the last 12 months.  Either way, it gets you close.

The marriage information can also give a hint to a second marriage.  In the following example, the apparent parents (Wm B Field and Mary Field) were married within the past year, but there are several older children living in the household.image

1860 Census

The information in the 1860 Census is similar to that of the 1850 Census.  Column 11 indicates whether the individual was married within the year.

In the following example, the 22-year-old John H Gilbert and his 15-year-old wife Sarah J Gilbert were married in 1860, and were living in the household of Isaac Dickens.  It is logical to guess that Isaac Dickens (age 39) may be Sarah’s father; her maiden name might be Dickens.image

1870 Census

The 1870 Census brought a slightly different twist on the question of whether or not the respondent was married within the year.  Instead of a tick mark, the enumerator was asked to record the month (Column 14).  This is an improvement!

In this example, the physician Mick Curtis and his wife Sue were married in May of 1870.image

1880 Census

After a brief step forward to include the month of marriage, the 1880 Census again only includes a tick mark to indicate whether or not a couple was married within the year (Column 12).  In a stroke of inefficiency, this census uses tick marks and three columns to indicate marital status (Column 9 for Single, Column 10 for Married, and Column 11 for Widowed/Divorced).

Interestingly, people often weren’t marked as “Married” if they were “Married within the year”.

In the following example, Willis C Grider was living with his new bride, Laura E, in the house of Willis’s parents, Waitsville and Sabrina Grider.image

1890 Census

We usually skip over the 1890 Census since so little of it still exists.  However, for those who are fortunate enough to find pertinent surviving records, there are some marriage tidbits.

The 1890 Census is arranged very differently that what we are used to, as you can see.
In this example Leanna T Hughes (Person 11 of the family) is listed as a daughter-in-law of the head of household (Row 3) and is listed as married (Row 7) and married between June 1, 1889 and May 31, 1890 (Row 8).  Her husband, Erasmus D Hughes, isn’t listed on the same page, or even adjacent (Person 3 of the family) but you can tell that he is most likely her husband because his entry also lists him as married within the year.

1900 Census

The 1900 Census is the first census that we typically think of as having useful marriage information.  Column 9 shows Marital Status; Column 10 shows the number of years married.  With a little simple math, you can figure out the year in which the couple was married.

In this example,George W Barie is shown as 42 years old and had been married for 10 years.  Tina Barie was 26 years old and had also been married for 10 years.image

The math:
1900 (year of the census) minus 10 years = 1890

George and Tina were married in 1890.

1910 Census

The information in the 1910 Census is similar to that in the 1900 Census.  Column 8 shows the marital status, and Column 9 indicates the number of years of the present marriage. 

In this example, K.H. Parker is 55 and married for 32 years.  His wife Emanda B Parker is 52 and also married for 32 years. You’ll also note that this enumerator has listed “M1” as the marital status, indicating that this was the first marriage for both K.H. and Emanda B. Parker.image

The math:
1910 (year of the census) minus 32 years = 1878

K.H. and Emanda B. Parker were married in 1878.

1920 Census

Sadly, the 1920 Census shows only marital status and relationship to the head of household. There is nothing to indicate when a couple was married.

1930 Census

There are several pieces of information in the 1930 census that can be pieced together to reveal a marriage year:  Marital condition (column 14), Age at first marriage (column 15), Age at last birthday (column 13), and Relationship to head of household (column 6).  Unfortunately, it requires a little more math than some of the other censuses.

Consider this example:image
A. B. Collins was 68 when the 1930 census was taken and married.  He was 23 when first married.  His wife, Mandie J Collins, was 70 and had been 25 when first married.

The math:
68 years old minus 23 years old = 45 years ago
70 years old minus 25 years old = 45 years ago

Since they match, there’s a good chance that they were married to each other.

Now, to find the marriage year:
1930 (year of the census) minus 45 years = 1885

A.B. and Mandie J Collins were married in 1885.  I happen to know that this is correct because I also have copies of Family Bible pages that show that A.B. Collins and Amanda Jane Perryman (Mandie) were married on July 30, 1885.  The math works!  Try it.

1940 Census

The 1940 Census is not yet available to the public due to the 72-year privacy rule; however, blank forms are available for review.  This census takes another step backward in marriage information.  It lists Marital Status (Column 12) but no other information directly related to a marriage.

You can do your own census research has just announced that it now offers the complete United States Census collection (1790 through 1930).  Check it out at

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