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The Reeds and the Kentucky Census

Two generations of my Reed family lived in Shelby (now Spencer) County, Kentucky after the Revolutionary War. They left footprints in the county records, but census records have been more difficult to find.

For starters, the U. S. census records for Kentucky in 1790 and 1800 are missing. The British destroyed the 1790 Kentucky schedules during the War of 1812. The 1800 schedules were lost.

A census substitute for the 1790 census exists in the form of the 1792 tax list for the county. Caleb Reed’s name appears there. He was taxed for land on the Elk Creek watershed. His son Thomas was still a child then.


The first year for which a Shelby County census record is available is 1810. Both Caleb and Thomas had households in the county that year. They appear next to each other on the census sheet.

The male aged 26-45 in Thomas’ household is likely him. There is a female the same age, probably his wife Ann. There are also two boys under 10. We know of only one, Robertson, who was born before 1810. The other boy may have been an additional son who died young and whose name has been lost to us.

Caleb’s household cannot be fully explained with the information we have. He must have been the male over 45 years old. A female the same age resides in the household, too. She may have been his wife, Rebecca whose death date we do not know. Caleb remarried a few years later, in 1816.

There are numerous young people in Caleb’s household. The 1810 census does not provide their names. A male 16-26 could have been his son Caleb C. Reed whose birth year we do not know. A younger male aged 10-16 may have been his son John Reed, born in 1794.

A female 10-16 may have been his daughter Elizabeth who was 13 years old, born in 1797.

That leaves a female 16-26 and four younger children. Who were they?

Two of Caleb’s daughters, Rachel and Abigail, had been widowed by 1810. Abigail was 25 that year, but she had no children with her first husband. If she was the female 16-26, who were the children?

Rachel was 29 that year. Was her age misattributed? She may have been living with her father in 1810, but her children do not fit the enumeration in Caleb’s household. She had 3 children, not four. Her two sons and a daughter all would have been under 10 that year. The census record lists an additional girl under 10. Three of these could have been the known children of Rachel, but who was the fourth girl? Did Rachel have another daughter who died?


This is the last census year in which Caleb and Thomas lived in Kentucky. By 1830, Caleb had moved to join his daughter Rachel’s household in Indiana, and Thomas had migrated to Illinois.

In Thomas’ household, we again find too many children. The girls under 10 would have been his daughters Eliza and Jane. There were also four boys, but we know of only two—Robertson born in 1808 and Caleb born in 1818. Did this family lose 2 sons, or were these other relatives?

Caleb’s 1820 listing was difficult to find. It took an every name search of Shelby County because he was indexed with the surname Rua instead of Reed.

Again, he had a large household. He had married the widow Elizabeth Van Dyke in 1816. They both appear in the household along with three young people under 25. These younger household members would not be Rachel’s family as she had moved to Indiana by 1820 and was enumerated there. Caleb’s other children were married and had their own households by then. Were the unidentified people part of the new wife Elizabeth’s family?

In addition to the unnamed people on the free white persons schedule, Caleb’s household included a slave schedule for the first time. Elizabeth, the widow of a plantation owner, brought these people along to her marriage with Caleb. They may have remained with her Van Dyke children after she had died several years later and Caleb went to Indiana.

These early census records require some close analysis because they do not name everyone in the household. The tick marks after the listing for the head of household present tantalizing clues to the genealogist.

For the Reeds, we are left with several questions. Who were the extra boys in Thomas’ household? Who were the unknown people in Caleb’s? We can only guess. Many people who died during those years in Kentucky were buried on their family farms, and records for them do not survive.

A complete genealogical research plan requires supplementing these early census records with other sources.


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