Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Farmers in Your Family Between 1850 and 1880? - Tuesday's Tip

My ancestor, Dixon Bartley, is on line 9.
If you have farmers who lived in the United States between 1850 and 1880, you may find the Agricultural Schedules of the U.S. Census for those years helpful.  Farmers were required to provide information about property ownership, what they grew, the numbers of animals they owned, etc.  The information recorded will put meat on the bones of dates and locations as well as tell you the names of other farmers in the township where your ancestor lived. I understand that the enumerator recorded the families in the same order he recorded the families for the population schedules.

Because you will have found your farmer ancestor in the U.S. population census for each of those years, you will know the state, county, and township where he lived.  I suspect finding your farmer in the population schedule will be easier than finding an image of the agricultural schedule for your ancestor, but because there is so much interesting information in the agricultural schedule it may be worth the effort to you to search for him.

The schedules vary from one year to the next but generally include specific information about animals, crops, products, etc.  The 1880 schedule asks for the most specific information, but most of the following is requested all years:
  • acres of improved and unimproved land
  • cash value of the farm
  • value of farming implements and machinery
  • livestock in numbers (horses; asses and mules; milch cows; working oxen; other cattle; sheep; swine; chickens)
  • value of livestock
  • produce in bushels or pounds (wheat, rye, Indian corn, oats, rice, tobacco, ginned cotton, wool, peas & beans, Irish potatoes, sweet potatoes, barley, buckwheat, hay, clover seed, other grass seeds, hops, both dew rotted and water rotted hemp, flax, flaxseed, silk cocoons)
  • processed products including wine, butter, cheese, maple sugar, cane sugar, molasses, beeswax, and honey
  • values of orchard products; produce of market gardens; homemade manufactures; animals slaughtered
Talk about getting a snapshot image of a working farm!  I think only photographs and a journal or interviews could do better.

Above I alluded to the challenge of finding the Agricultural census images.  Most are not available online but I was more than thrilled to find that the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission has the 1850 and 1880 agricultural census images available for every township in every county at no cost.  If you have a Pennsylvania farmer click over and take a look.

If your farmer didn't live in Pennsylvania I encourage you to perform an online search for agriculture census images for the year, state, and county when and where your ancestor lived.  Some genealogy societies, larger genealogy libraries, historical societies, and states in the U.S. GenWeb Project are making the images available online.

The U.S. National Archives gives a brief overview of Nonpopulation Census Schedules.  You can read information about the agricultural schedules and if you scroll to the bottom of the page you'll find a microfilm list.  Click on your state of interest and learn the series and roll numbers for your counties of interest.  The rolls are available for viewing at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. and are available for purchase but are expensive at $125.00 per roll.

FamilySearch's wiki, United States Census Agricultural Schedules, gives some information about the agricultural census schedules and states that the Family History Library has very few.  To find them do a place search for the state, choose "census," and then choose the census year.

Regina De Leon of  Kinfolk News created transcription templates for all four years the agriculture census was taken.  In her 2010 post, Agriculture Templates are Here, she generously offered to email them to anyone who asked.  (I asked her last week if readers could request them now and she said yes.)  They are excellently done and I was thrilled to find them, especially because it was at about the same time that I found the Pennsylvania records online.  Regina worked long and hard to create the forms and says they were truly a labor of love.  You can imagine.

I was interested to learn that in the 1880 census (for the year 1879), my farmer ancestor Dixon Bartley reported that he owned 322 acres of land.  Of those acres, 6 were devoted to apple orchards where 700 bearing trees grew.  He owned horses, cows, pigs, and chickens.  From the cows he produced 700 pounds of butter.  He grew buckwheat, Indian corn, oats, rye, wheat, and potatoes.  His farm also produced 200 pounds of honey.  He seems not to have had hired help except at a total cost of $50.00. When I combine the information from the population and agricultural censuses, I can begin to imagine the Bartley family and the busy workings of Dixon's tidy farm.

Maybe you can recreate a year or so of your own farmer ancestor's life with the agricultural census schedules.


Copyright © 2010-2015 Nancy Messier. All Rights Reserved.


  1. Though am not in U.S, but i liked your blog. You are talking about the Past and Present. "My Ancestors and Me." meet me at Bloggers.com

  2. This is really good information. I have seen the agricultural schedules for some of my ancestors but I have not given them the respect that you have. Now I want to look at them again. Thanks for showing me why I should care.

    1. Hi, Wendy. Thanks for visiting and leaving a comment. I hope you find good information when you search again. I think they are very interesting.

  3. Nancy, I just wanted to let you know that this post is listed on today's Fab Finds post at http://janasgenealogyandfamilyhistory.blogspot.com/2012/11/follow-fridayfab-finds-for-november-16.html

  4. Very well written post. I enjoyed reading through the information that you shared.

  5. I am a big fan of using the agricultural censuses to get a snapshot of my farmer ancestors. But you also need to know the limitations and problems of using the records. For example, sometimes the census taker didn't record all of the crops being grown. The 1870 farm census has the same problems as the population census.

    Getting a list of your ancestors' farm products as you did is just the start. You need to ask questions such as:

    What did my ancestors do with the apples they grew? Eat them? Sell them? Ask the same questions about the other products and livestock. And how did your ancestors' farm compare to that of their neighbors?

    A list doesn't tell you if your ancestors were good farmers, growing enough to feed family and animals, and perhaps having some left over to sell. To do that you have to be willing to do a little math.

    If anyone is interested, I can make a short post about how to do the math and provide a resource for more info. I just didn't want to clutter up the site if no one is interested.

    1. Oh, yes, pooreboysingrey, I agree with you about everything you've written. As with a population census, an agriculture census is just a stepping stone to more information. The deeper we dig, the more information we'll find. Thanks for visiting and leaving a comment.

  6. Great tips and I've included your post on my Favorites for this week! Thanks for sharing.


    1. Thanks so much, Heather. I hope your readers find it helpful.

  7. Getting ready to write a blog post about my 3d great grandmother, Patience Miller, of Bridgton, Maine, who had her own small farm, and appears in the 1850 Agriculture Schedule. Great post!

    1. I'm so glad you were able to find the 1850 ag schedule for her, Pam. Good job! They're not always easy to find or available.

  8. I look forward to getting your templates. I think I will have lots of uses for them.

    1. Pam, go to Regina's website and ask her for the templates. The post where you can ask her is http://kinfolknews.blogspot.com/2010/10/agriculture-templates-are-here-finally.html. She also has a contact tab on the left side of her blog so I'm sure you'd be able to get in touch with her that way.


I appreciate your comments and look forward to reading what you have to say. Thanks for stopping by.

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