African American Resource Center
New Orleans Public Library

African American Genealogical Research in New Orleans
Census Records

Besides gathering relative documents and conducting oral interviews, another way to document your family history is to locate ancestors on the various United States Census Records. These are the records that are so widely used by genealogists in the Louisiana Division of the New Orleans Public Library. The Census records might lead your search out of the state of Louisiana if it shows that your relatives or ancestors were born in another state. If this is the case, you will have to familiarize yourself with that state's archives and county records.

The French were the first to take censuses in Louisiana, followed by the Spanish. The first U. S. Census of Louisiana was taken in 1810. At that time, only whites, free people of color and Native Americans were counted. Slaves were listed by sex, number, and age category under the owner’s name or the owner’s head of household.

Starting with the 1850 census and ending with the 1860 census, slaves were enumerated separately by owner, sex, color, and age. This section of the census is known as slave schedules.

Most African Americans will benefit from the census records from 1870 through 1920. In these records African Americans are counted individually and listed as either heads of households, family members, or as boarders in individual households. From 1870 on, the U. S. census will provide you with names of ancestors, places of birth, age at the time the census was taken, color or race, occupations, educational level, and place of residence or street address.

Census records are arranged by state and parish (or in the case of other states, by counties). To use the census you should know the parish in which your ancestors and relatives lived. There are printed indexes for census records of Louisiana starting with the 1810 census and continuing up to the 1870 census. The index for the 1880 census is arranged by a process known as the Soundex. The Soundex is a coding method in which the first letter of a surname is used and the rest of the name is assigned a numerical code based on how the name sounds. The Soundex is used for all U.S. Censuses taken since 1880 (See Attachment 5). Due to a fire in a Washington, D.C. warehouse, the vast majority of the 1890 U. S. Census was burned. However, a special census of Union Veterans and Union Veteran Widows was taken in 1890. (This special census is extremely helpful in determining whether your ancestors fought for the Union and whether they later filed for a pension.)

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