Frederick County, Virginia 1810 Federal Census: A Transcription

Frederick County, Virginia 1810 Federal Census: A Transcription

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Frederick County, Virginia 1810 Federal Census: A Transcription.

John Vogt. 2007. 

Census returns are some of the first records that a genealogist turns to when studying a new family line. Unfortunately for Frederick County, as well as Virginia as a whole, both the 1790 and 1800 census reports for that state are lost. While the reason for their loss is argued, they nevertheless no longer exist. While personal property tax and land tax lists (which date from 1782) can be used to give some information about individuals, they do not give the researcher a glimpse into family composition or a snapshot of the county as a whole Hence Frederick’s 1810 census is the first real window we have from the census records of this huge western county sitting astride the Shenandoah River and the Great Wagon Road west. With the advent of the computer age and the publication of most of these early censuses, one would expect that many of the genealogist’s problems would be resolved. Unfortunately, this has not happened. While many researchers rely completely upon online census records, these are often flawed by misread names and missing names altogether. The problem is the difficult reading of the documents, which often are written in a tight, cramped hand and with a myriad of possible readings. The close similarity between “S’ and “L,” “F” and “T”, and recognizing the secretarial s, which appears as “ss” in the middle of words but not as an ending, can lead to nightmares in translation. Oftentimes, there is no distinction between an “e”, an “o”, and an “a” unless the reader is familiar with the family names within the document. These are only a few visual issues facing the transcriber. The author has been fortunate to have a professional background in paleography and history, both medieval and modern. In transcribing the current volume, comparison was made with other documents, as well as carefully examining each questionable character under magnification to ascertain the true intent of the writer. In all, there were but four instances out of 2,696 names where the reading simply could not be made. In the process, it became apparent that sometimes the census recorder himself was not familiar with strange-sounding German names or heavy Scottish brogues. One spelling would appear in the first encounter with the family, and then later on in the document a different spelling would be given for the same family surname. In brief, computerized lists, while useful, do not give a total and accurate picture of the data. A second, and even more vexing problem, is the “bleed through” found on many pages of the document. The census was recorded in booklet form, consisting of twenty-five sheets of paper that were folded in the middle and written on in landscape fashion. So when the first half of the first page was filled with information and turned over, the back of that sheet became page two, with the upside-down writing of the first page often bleeding through to smear both names and data. In addition, the census enumerator conserved paper by writing in a very tiny hand, and herein lies the problem with “a”, “e” and “o” in the body of a name. Only by carefully examining the transitions between characters can an accurate reading be obtained. When a searched-for family name has been located in a county as large as Frederick, the first question which comes to mind is “In what part of the county did he or she live?” Was it a back-country mountain settlement, or did the ancestor reside near a huge plantation filled with slaves or industry? Did they live in one of the growing towns or in the countryside? Wills and deeds can give a good picture of the location, or you can use the census itself in conjunction with one other valuable source. This is the 1815 land tax. The early land tax laws required a tax commissioner in each district of a county to record a list of the names of persons owning land or town lots, the quantity of land owned and its value, and the amount of tax owed. By 1813, a brief geographic description (usually citing an adjacent stream, road, or other landmark) was required. In 1814, the distance and direction from the courthouse for each parcel were also added to the tax rolls. By checking with this land tax, which does not include all of the census names but does include the actual owners of property, a good idea of where an ancestor resided can often be obtained. The land tax lists for 1815 for every Virginia county existing at that time have been abstracted by Roger G. Ward and are available through New Papyrus Publishing Company. The current volume is a literal transcription of the original document with the following conventions. “Sr.” was substituted for “Senr”; line breaks were entered generally for every five records to give the reader better visual clarity; the secretarial s (ò) was replaced by “s”; and the document header which listed each category was entered on every page for easier identification. Finally, the pencilled number for each page (506-606) was inserted on every line for better reference. This number was selected over the printed number at the right corner of each sheet to better identify the source of the data. Where a name is clearly divergent from the accepted spelling, yet is as printed, a note of [sic] has been added to denote “thus”.

Statistical Summary of population.
Total number of heads of households listed - 2,696
Free White Males, 0-9 2,642 (11.7%)
Free White Males, 10-15 1,298 (5.7%)
Free White Males, 16-24 1,490 (6.6%)
Free White Males, 24-45 1,407 (6.2%)
Free White Males, 45+ 1,030 (4.6%)
Free White Females, 0-9 2,483 (11%)
Free White Females, 10-15 1,267 (5.6%)
Free White Females, 16-24 1,604 (7.1%)
Free White Females, 25-44 1,431 (6.3%)
Free White Females, 45+ 892 (4%)
Other Free Persons 620 (2.7%)
Slaves 6,457 (28.5%)
22,621
811 heads of households (30%) reported owning slaves, with the top five being Nathaniel Burwell, Sr.(325), Thomas Knight (146), Matthew Page (146), John Page (143), and Isaac Hite (103). Just less than 25% of the slave households (197) reported owning only one slave.

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