Mortality Schedules


Yesterday I spoke a bit about the US Census Federal Non-Population Schedules.  With online resources increasing by the day I thought I’d talk about another schedule that frequently goes undiscovered, the U.S. Federal Census Mortality Schedules (1850-1885) which can be found on Ancestry.com for 37 states (assuming I counted right; and note that not all states have all years available). Here is the link to the ancestry database  http://tinyurl.com/22qzbdk 

Other sources for the mortality schedules include:

Use the search tips that I spoke of in this post: https://passagetothepast.wordpress.com/2010/07/06/finding-missing-ancestors-in-the-census/

Since most counties and states did not begin to issue death certificates until the late 1800’s or early 1900’s, these schedules can be quite helpful. Mortality schedules may provide you the opportunity to find out what happened to someone who is“missing” from the census. Keep in mind that your ancestor will only be listed if he died during the 1 year prior to the census as it only lists anyone who died between the dates of June 1st of the year prior to the census through May 31st of the census year. For example, the 1850 mortality schedule would have  the deaths of anyone who died between 1 June 1849 and 31 May 1850.

Mortality schedules were created during the census years of 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, and was also part of the Federal census in 1885 for Colorado, Florida, Nebraska and the territories of South Dakota and New Mexico.

The mortality schedule contains the following information:

1850 and 1860: name of the deceased, age at death, sex, color, status (free or slave), marital status (married or widowed), place of birth (state, territory or county), the month of death, occupation, disease or cause of death, and the number of days the deceased was ill.

1870: includes the same information as in the prior schedules (with the exception of  “free or slave” and “number of days ill”) but added whether the father/mother were of foreign birth and lists a  family number which ties back to the family number in the regular census.

1880: includes the same information but adds single or divorced, the place of birth of the deceased’s mother and father, the number of years the deceased had been a resident of the county, where the disease was contracted, if different from the place of death and the name of the attending physician.

The 1890 mortality schedules were destroyed by fire (same as the 1890 census) and the 1900 mortality schedules were destroyed through an act of Congress after the statistics had been complied, only the 1900 mortality schedule for Minnesota  (discovered years later at the Minnesota Historical Society) survived.

Problems:

Although some slaves may have been recorded, some omit the deaths of slaves. Sometimes deceased slaves were recorded without surnames or with the surname of their owner.

In 1880, a question asks for “the place where a disease was contracted, if different than the place of death”. Census takers were asked to record the place of death for the deceased who belonged to a family in the district but had died someplace else. They were also told to record the place of residence for the family of the deceased who had died in the district but whose family lived someplace else. This resulted in some of the deceased being recorded on two schedules in different locations.

I have read that deaths were under reported as much as 20 to 40 percent.

The Federal Census records have some great information, but they can contain mistakes (as can all genealogical records). The census takers took the information orally. Many of the foreign immigrants had heavy accents. In most cases the census taker probably didn’t ask how to spell a name. Usually they talked to the head of the household or his wife but if neither of these were available he might instead speak to an older child, neighbor or just record the information based on his own personal knowledge of the family. The information might only be fairly accurate if someone other than the head of household reported the information.  The head of household might also have reason to “fib”.  For example, an Irishman may have lied about his origins to avoid discrimination. In the mid-1800’s in places such as New York, ads for employment most often included the stipulation that “No Irish Need Apply”.

Last, many of the diseases listed on these schedules may be unfamiliar.  This website describes many of them: http://www.olivetreegenealogy.com/misc/disease.shtml

Best of luck with your search!  Please let me know if you have any success in finding your lost relatives on these schedules!

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Thank you for this valuable information! On the 1870 Mortality Schedule of my gggrandfather, it did not include ” lists a family number which ties back to the family number in the regular census”. I wish it would have. It would clear up so many problems I am having with this line. Mortality Schedules are a great source of information; I believe they are not taken seiously enough sometimes in genealogy research!

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  2. Thanks for the comment Jenni and welcome! Too bad that the you can’t tie him back to the family, did the enumerator just leave those columns blank? Sometimes they misunderstood the instructions, so I could see how this might occur.

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