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Census Revisited

The release of the 1950 U. S. census has generated curiosity in the genealogical community about what it might reveal of our families. This new release also made me think of all the information available from census records created in prior decades. For those years, we have not only population schedules that give us family groups. We also have an assortment of special schedules available.

In the spring issue of The Mayflower Quarterly Magazine, I read an article by Dale H. Cook about these seldom-used federal census schedules. He highlighted the Industrial and Manufacturing Schedules found in 1820, 1850, and 1860.

My family always farmed, so I thought manufacturing schedules would be of little interest to me. I have never looked at them.

Then I remembered that my third great-grandfather Benjamin E. Dunbar (1776-1831) had owned a saltworks at Chatham, Barnstable County, Massachusetts. Would the 1820 manufacturing schedule tell me anything about that?

I located an image of the 1820 Barnstable County manufacturing schedule on Family Search. It was a hand-written narrative of the industries found in the county. These included small ropeworks and cotton spinning operations.

The main onshore industry was my family’s occupation of making salt from seawater. The schedule compiler explained the economics of the business. I learned that the owners were often retired seamen who worked alone. Family members were pressed into duty to cover the evaporation troughs when it rained. The saltworks were idle during the winter.

The manufacturing schedule does not provide details of specific businesses, nor does it list any owners names. From other sources I already knew where the Dunbar saltworks was located and how many feet of troughs the family had.

The manufacturing schedule did give information on how the business operated, how people got into it, and how important it was to the local economy. It was worth taking the time to look at this supplement to an early 1800’s census.


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