Agricultural censuses, sometimes referred to as "farm schedules," are an enumeration of U.S. farms and ranches and the farmers who owned and operated them. This first agricultural census was fairly limited in scope, recording numbers of common farm animals, wool and soil crop production, and the value of poultry and dairy products. The information collected generally increased by year but may include such items as the value and acreage of the farm, whether it was owned or rented, the number of livestock owned in various categories, the types and value of crops, and the ownership and use of various farm implements.
Taking of the U.S. Agricultural Census
The first agricultural census of the United States was taken as part of the 1840 federal census, a practice which continued through 1950. The 1840 census included agriculture as a category on a special "manufacturing schedule." From 1850, agricultural data was enumerated on its own special schedule, usually referred to as the agricultural schedule.
Between 1954 and 1974, the Census of Agriculture was conducted in years ending in "4" and "9." In 1976 Congress enacted Public Law 94-229 directing that the census of agriculture be taken in 1979, 1983, and then every fifth year thereafter, adjusted to 1978 and 1982 (years ending in 2 and 7) so that the agricultural schedule coincided with other economic censuses. The enumeration timing changed one last time in 1997 when it was decided that the agricultural census would be taken in 1998 and every fifth year thereafter (Title 7, U.S. Code, Chapter 55).
Availability of U.S. Agricultural Schedules
1850-1880: U.S. agricultural schedules are most widely available for research for the years 1850, 1860, 1870, and 1880. In 1919 the Bureau of the Census transferred custody of the existing 1850-1880 agricultural and other non-population schedules to state repositories and, in cases where state officials declined to receive them, to the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) for safekeeping.1 Thus, the agricultural schedules were not among the census enumerations transferred to the National Archives upon its creation in 1934. NARA has since acquired microfilm copies of many of these 1850-1880 non-population schedules, although not all states or years are available. Selected schedules from the following states can be viewed on microfilm at the National Archives: Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Washington, and Wyoming, plus Baltimore City and County and Worcester County, Maryland. A full list of non-population census schedules available on microfilm from the National Archives can be browsed by state in the NARA Guide to Non-population Census Records.
1850-1880 Agricultural Schedules Online: A number of agricultural schedules for this time period are available online. Begin with subscription-based Ancestry.com, which offers selected agricultural census schedules for this period for states including Alabama, California, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Washington. Search Google and relevant state repositories as well, to locate possible digitized agricultural schedules. The Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission, for example, hosts online digitized images of the 1850 and 1880 Pennsylvania agricultural schedules.
For the agricultural schedules not found online, check the online card catalog for state archives, libraries, and historical societies, as they are the most likely repositories of the original schedules. Duke University is a repository for the non-population census schedules for several states, including select original returns for Colorado, District of Columbia, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Tennessee, and Virginia, with scattered records for Montana, Nevada, and Wyoming. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill holds microfilm copies of agricultural schedules for the southern states of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia. Three reels from this collection (out of about 300 total) are digitized and available on Archive.org: NC Reel 5 (1860, Alamance - Cleveland), NC Reel 10 (1870, Alamance - Currituck) and NC Reel 16 (1880, Bladen - Carteret). A Summary of Special Census Schedules, 1850-1880 in "The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy" by Loretto Dennis Szucs and Sandra Hargreaves Leubking (Ancestry Publishing, 2006) provides a good starting point for the location of extant agricultural schedules, organized by state.
1890-1910: It is generally believed that the agricultural schedules for 1890 were either destroyed by the 1921 fire at the U.S. Commerce Building or later destroyed with the rest of the damaged 1890 population schedules.2 Six million agricultural schedules and one million irrigation schedules from the 1900 census were among the records identified in a list of "useless papers" with "no permanent value or historical interest" on file at the Census Bureau, and were destroyed unmicrofilmed under provisions of an act of Congress approved 2 March 1895 to "authorize and provide for the disposition of useless papers in the Executive Departments."3 The 1910 agricultural schedules met a similar fate.4
1920-present: In general, the only information from the agricultural censuses readily available for researchers after 1880 are the published bulletins produced by the Bureau of the Census and Department of Agriculture with tabulated results and analysis presented by state and county (no information on individual farms and farmers). Individual farm schedules have generally been destroyed or are otherwise inaccessible, although a few were preserved by state archives or libraries. 84,939 schedules from the 1920 agricultural census for "livestock not on farms" were on a list for destruction in 1925.5 Although efforts were made to preserve the "six million, four hundred thousand" 1920 farm schedules for their historical value, the 1920 agricultural schedules still appeared on a March 1927 list of records from the Bureau of the Census destined for destruction and are believed to have been destroyed.6 The National Archives does, however, hold 1920 agricultural schedules in Record Group 29 for Alaska, Guam, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico, and 1920 general farm schedules for McLean County, Illinois; Jackson County, Michigan; Carbon County, Montana; Santa Fe County, New Mexico; and Wilson County, Tennessee.
3,371,640 agricultural farm schedules from the 1925 agricultural census were dispositioned for destruction in 1931.7 The whereabouts of the majority of the individual farm schedules for 1930 are unknown, but the National Archives does hold the 1930 farm schedules for Alaska, Hawaii, Guam, American Samoa, the Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico.
Tips for Research in the U.S. Agricultural Schedules
- Agricultural census schedules, except for many of those available online, are mostly unindexed. Like the population schedule, agricultural schedules are arranged by county and township, and the family number found in the population census corresponds to the family number in the agriculture census.
- The agricultural census schedule enumerated all free individuals who produced goods over a certain value (generally $100 or more), but census-takers often included farmers who produced goods of lesser value, so even very small family farms can often be found in these schedules.
- Read the enumerator instructions for each agricultural schedule for specific definitions regarding how farms were determined in the case of managers or overseers, how crops and livestock were calculated, etc. Census.gov has online PDFs of the instructions for census enumerators, which include (if you scroll down) the special schedules.
Agricultural Census Summaries
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has published statistical summaries of agricultural census data for states and counties (but not townships), from the census of 1840 up through the present day. These agricultural census publications published prior to 2007 can be accessed online from the USDA Census of Agriculture Historical Archive.
U.S. agricultural census schedules are an often-overlooked, valuable resource for genealogists, especially those looking to fill in gaps for missing or incomplete land and tax records, distinguish between two men with the same name, learn more about the daily life of their farming ancestor, or to document black sharecroppers and white overseers.
- U.S. Census Bureau, Annual Report of the Director of the Census to the Secretary of Commerce for the Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 1919 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1919), 17, "Distribution of Old Census Schedules to State Libraries."
- U.S. Congress, Disposition of Useless Papers in the Department of Commerce, 72nd Congress, 2nd Session, House Report No. 2080 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1933), no. 22 "Schedules, population 1890, original."
- U.S. Congress, List of Useless Papers in the Bureau of the Census, 62nd Congress, 2nd Session, House Document No. 460 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1912), 63.
- U.S. Census Bureau, Annual Report of the Director of the Census to the Secretary of Commerce for the Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 1921 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1921), 24-25, "Preservation of Records."
- U.S. Congress, Disposition of Useless Papers in Department of Commerce, 68th Congress, 2nd Session, House Report No. 1593 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1925).
- U.S. Census Bureau, Annual Report of the Director of the Census to the Secretary of Commerce for the Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 1927 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1927), 16, "Preservation of Census Schedules." U.S. Congress, Disposition of Useless Papers in Department of Commerce, 69th Congress, 2nd Session, House Report No. 2300 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1927).
- U.S. Congress, Disposition of Useless Papers in the Department of Commerce, 71st Congress, 3rd Session, House Report No. 2611 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1931).