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Census Records

September 21, 2021 Previous day Next day

We are often asked if census records include U.S. civilians and military personnel who were living overseas in foreign countries.  The answer is “sometimes” – it depends on the census year, the decisions made by the Census Bureau, the instructions to the census enumerator, the census enumerator’s interpretation of those instructions, and the person’s own family!

 

The delegates to the U.S. Constitutional Convention in 1787 decided that representation in the U.S. House of Representatives would be apportioned according to each state’s share of the national population.  Article II, Section 2, decreed that “The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct.”  Thus, the framers of the Constitution left the details of how the census was to be conducted to the deliberations of Congress.

 

The enumeration of Americans overseas was probably not considered an issue by either the framers of the Constitution or the members of the First Congress, who enacted the legislation authorizing the first census taken in 1790.  The vast majority of the country’s residents were at home toiling on their farms or in cities and towns.  A few thousand coastwise and ocean-going mariners were at sea, and even fewer merchants and diplomats were abroad conducting business.  Since the purpose of the census was to apportion representation according to the numbers of persons actually residing in each state, the few who were abroad and had no U.S. family to report them were not material to the purposes of the count. 

 

17901840 Censuses

 

The 1790 census act  “An Act providing for the enumeration of the Inhabitants of the United States” (1 Statutes at Large 101) provided instructions to the U.S. Marshals and their assistants to conduct the census.  Section 5 of the Act stated (in part):  “That every person whose usual place of abode shall be in any family on the aforesaid first Monday in August next [August 2, 1790], shall be returned as of such family; … and every person occasionally absent at the time of the enumeration, as belonging to that place in which he usually resides in the United States.”  (Emphasis added.)  This “occasionally absent at the time of the enumeration” language would enable overseas merchants and diplomats and the few thousand coastwise and ocean-going mariners at sea to be included in the census, if reported by their family at home.

 

Congress used the same language when it authorized the second census in 1800 (2 Statutes at Large 11), the third in 1810 (2 Statutes at Large 564), the fourth in 1820 (3 Statutes at Large 548), the fifth in 1830 (4 Statutes at Large 383), and the sixth in 1840 (5 Statutes at Large 331).

 

Since the 1790 through 1840 censuses report only the name of the head of household and general age ranges of household members, it is difficult perhaps impossible to determine if any specific individual who was abroad or at sea was counted.

 

1850 Census

 

“An Act providing for the taking of the seventh and subsequent Censuses of the United States, and to fix the Number of the Members of the House of Representatives, and provide for their future Apportionment among the several States” (9 Statutes at Large 428) was longer and more detailed than previous census acts. However, it also specified that the marshals and their assistants were to follow “instructions which shall be given by the Secretary of the Interior.”  The Secretary’s instructions went into considerable detail on the meaning of “usual place of abode,” family, and the proper enumeration of seamen on vessels on the sea, lakes, rivers, and canals.  While none of the language specifically mentions U.S. citizens or residents living abroad, it is clear that persons temporarily absent were to be enumerated with their U.S. family: 

 

Under heading 3, entitled “The name of every person whose usual place of abode on the 1st day of June, 1850, was in this family,” insert the name of every free person in each family, of every age, including the names of those temporarily absent, as well as those that were at home on that day. 

 

By place of abode is meant the house or usual lodging place of a person.  Any one who is temporarily absent on a journey, or for other purposes, without taking up his place of residence elsewhere, and with the intention of returning again, is to be considered a member of the family which the assistant marshal is enumerating.

 

Those only who belong to such family, and consider it their home or usual place abode, whether present or temporarily absent on a visit, journey, or a voyage, are to be enumerated. 

 

The assistants in all seaports will apply at the proper office for lists of all persons on a voyage at sea, and register all citizens of the United States who have not been registered as belonging to some family.

 

Thus, it is possible that U.S. citizens or alien permanent residents who were temporarily away in foreign places may have been enumerated in the U.S. census with their family due to those instructions.  (For more information, see Instructions to Marshals and Assistant Marshals of the United States, 1850 Census).

 

1860 Census

 

In 1860, the Assistant Marshals were instructed that “All Seafaring people are to be enumerated at their land homes, or usual place of abode, whether they be present or at sea.”  In addition, persons who were temporarily away in foreign places may have been enumerated in the U.S. census with their family due to the “place of abode” instruction, which read:

 

Individual Names.Under heading 3, entitled "The name of every person whose usual place of abode on the 1st day of June, 1860, was in this family," insert the name of every free person in each family, of every age, including the names of those temporarily absent on a journey, visit, or for the purposes of education, as well as those that were at home on that day.

 

By “place of abode” is meant the house or usual lodging place of persons. Any one who is temporarily absent on a visit or journey, or for other purposes, with the intention of again returning, is to be considered a member of the family to which he belongs, and not of that where he may be temporarily sojourning; and care should be exercised to make full inquiry for such absentees, that none may be omitted on your lists whose names should properly appear there.  (For more information, see Census Office, Department of the Interior.  Eighth Census, United States.1860.  Instructions to U.S. Marshals.  Instructions to Assistants.  (Washington:  Geo. W. Bowman, Public Printer, 1860), p. 14.)

 

1870, 1880, and 1890 Censuses

 

In 1870, sailors at sea were included in the census if reported by their family at their U.S. home.  The instructions to the Assistant Marshals who took the census stated that “Sea-faring men are to be reported at their land homes, no matter how long they may have been absent, if they are supposed to be still alive.”  (For more information, see Census Office, Department of the Interior.  Ninth Census, United States, 1870.  Instructions to Assistant Marshals (Washington:  Government Printing Office, 1870), p. 9).  Instructions with the same wording were provided to enumerators in 1880 and 1890.

 

Other Americans abroad were not specifically mentioned in the instructions, but could potentially have been enumerated in the U.S. census as persons simply temporarily absent from their family:

 

Names of Individuals.In column 3 will be entered the Name of every person in each family, of whatever age, including the Names of such as were temporarily absent on the 1st day 9 of June, 1870. 

 

Ultimately, the government had to rely on the enumerator’s common sense.  The 1880 census was the first census in which the Census Office hired enumerators instead of relying on the U.S. Marshals and their assistants.  The 1880 enumerator instructions included this language that was closely followed in the 1890 and 1900 instructions:

 

The census law furnishes no definition of the phrase, “usual place of abode,” and it is difficult, under the American system of a protracted enumeration, to afford administrative directions which will wholly obviate the danger that some persons will be reported in two places and others not reported at all. Much must be left to the judgment of the enumerator, who can, if he will take the pains, in the great majority of instances satisfy himself as to the propriety of including or not including doubtful cases in his enumeration of any given family.  (For more information, see Census Office, Department of the Interior, May 1, 1880).

 

1900 Census

 

The Spanish-American War (1898) and Philippine Insurrection (1899-1902) resulted in a large number of American military personnel and their dependents being stationed overseas for the first time.  National Archives Microfilm Publication T623, Twelfth Census of the United States, 1900, has census schedules for the continental United States and the territories of Alaska and Hawaii. In addition, there are military and naval personnel on five microfilm rolls:

 

  • Roll 1838:  Volume 1 (Enumeration Districts [EDs] 100-121)
  • Roll 1839:  Volume 2 (EDs 150-165) and Volume 3 (166-168 and 169, sheets 1-9).
  • Roll 1840:  Volume 3 (EDs 169, sheets 10end; and 170-175) and Volume 4 (EDs 176-186)
  • Roll 1841:  Volume 5 (EDs 187-195) and Volume 6 (EDs 196-205)
  • Roll 1842:  Volume 7 (EDs 1-88)


While most of the overseas personnel were in the Philippines, others were stationed in Algeria, Asiatic Station, the Atlantic Ocean, China, Columbia, Cuba, Egypt, England, Guam, Japan, the Mediterranean Sea, the Pacific Ocean, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Samoa, and Uruguay.  Personnel on a naval vessel at Unalaska, Alaska, are also included.


In addition, it is probable that these military personnel were also enumerated at their U.S. homes, according to the instructions to enumerators in Paragraph 117:  “If a soldier, sailor, or marine (officer or enlisted man), or civilian employee in the service of the United States at a station at home or abroad; is a member of a family living in your district, he should be enumerated as a member of that family, even though he may be absent on duty at the time of the enumeration.”


Americans temporarily living abroad were also to be enumerated at their U.S. address according to Paragraph 118:  “Summer boarders at hotels or country houses and persons temporarily residing in foreign lands should be enumerated as part of their family at their home or usual place of abode.” 

 

Finally, Paragraph 112 used the same language concerning “seafaring men” as had been used in 1870, 1880, and 1890.  (For more information, see Census Office, Department of the Interior. Twelfth Census of the United States, June 1, 1900.  Instructions to Enumerators (Washington:  Government Printing Office, 1900), p. 27).


1910 Census

 

National Archives Microfilm Publication T624, Thirteenth Census of the United States, 1910, has census schedules for the continental United States, the territories of Alaska and Hawaii, and the overseas possession of Puerto Rico.  In addition, microfilm roll 1784 contains overseas personnel at military posts, camps, stations, hospitals, and on naval vessels.  While most of the personnel were in the Philippines, other overseas personnel were stationed in American Samoa, China, Cuba, Guam, Japan, Nicaragua, Panama, Turkey, and on naval vessels at unspecified locations.  Roll 1784 also includes military personnel at some continental U.S. locations and Hawaii.  However, to avoid double counting of overseas personnel, Paragraph 63 of the instructions to enumerators directed that:

 

“Soldiers, sailors, marines, and civilian employees of the United States.In order to avoid duplication, soldiers, sailors, and marines belonging to the army or navy of the United States, and civilian employees of the United States, are treated as resident at their posts of duty or places where they are regularly employed.  If, therefore, any family in your district reports that one of its members is a soldier, sailor, marine, or civilian employee of the United States with a post of duty or station elsewhere, you should not report him as a member of that family.” 

 

Although Paragraph 63 does not provide any distinction between foreign posts and those on U.S. soil, it seems reasonable that its wording was to be understood in conjunction with the dictates of Paragraph 64, which reads:

 

“Citizens abroad at time of the enumeration.Any citizen of the United States who is a member of a family living in your district, but abroad temporarily at the time of the enumeration, should be enumerated as of your district. It does not matter how long the absence abroad is continued, provided the person intends to return to the United States.  This instruction applies only to citizens of the United States and not to aliens who have left this country, as nothing definite can be known as to whether such aliens intend to return to this country.”


Finally, Paragraph 62 repeated the same instruction about seafaring men that had been used from 1870 to 1900:  “Sailors on voyages are to be reported at their land homes, no matter how long they have been absent if they are supposed to be still alive.”   (For more information, see  Bureau of the Census, Department of Commerce and Labor.  Thirteenth Census of the United States, April 15, 1910.  Instructions to Enumerators (Washington:  Government Printing Office, 1910), pp. 20-21).

1920 Census

 

National Archives Microfilm Publication T625, Fourteenth Census of the United States, 1920, has census schedules for the continental United States, the territories of Alaska and Hawaii, and the overseas possessions American Samoa, Guam, Panama Canal Zone, Puerto Rico, and U.S. Virgin Islands.  In addition, microfilm rolls 2040, 2041, and 2042 contain overseas personnel:

 

  • Roll 2040:  Volume 1 (U.S. Military Forces, Red Cross in Europe, Philippine Islands, European Forces in Germany, and Philippine Islands) and Volume 2 (U.S. Naval Forces)
  • Roll 2041:  Volumes 3 (U.S. Naval Forces) and Volume 4 (U.S. Naval Forces and U.S. Consular Service (ED 444 only)
  • Roll 2042:  Panama Canal Zone:  Civilians (EDs 1-8); Military Forces (EDs 498a-498m); and Naval Forces (EDs 821-838)

Overseas locations represented on these rolls include American Samoa, Azores, Belgium, Caribbean Sea, China, Cuba, Dalmatia, Dominican Republic, England, “Europe,” France, Germany, Guam, Haiti, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Nicaragua, Panama, Philippine Islands, Poland, Russia, Siberia, Turkey, and unspecified locations.  In addition, these rolls include military personnel at some continental U.S. locations, American Samoa, Hawaii, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.


Instructions to enumerators for the 1920 census used the same text as the 1910 instructions concerning sailors on voyages (Paragraph 61); soldiers, sailors, marines, and civilian employees of the United States (Paragraph 62); and U.S. citizens abroad (Paragraph 63).  (For more information, see Bureau of the Census, Department of Commerce.  Fourteenth Census of the United States, January 1, 1920.  Instructions to Enumerators (Washington:  Government Printing Office, 1919, pp. 18-19).


1930 Census

 

National Archives Microfilm Publication T626, Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930, has census schedules for the continental United States, the territories of Alaska and Hawaii, and the overseas possessions American Samoa, Guam, Panama Canal Zone, Puerto Rico, and U.S. Virgin Islands. There are no census schedules for military personnel overseas, but there are two microfilm rolls with Americans employed in the consular service overseas:

 

  • Roll 2630:  Consular Services:   Danzig, Poland to Zurich, Switzerland
  • Roll 2638:  Consular Services:  Acapulco, Mexico to Darien, Manchuria, and continuation of Danzig (Free State), Danzig, Poland, to Zurich, Switzerland

 

Instructions to enumerators for the 1930 census used text very similar to the 1910 and 1920 instructions concerning soldiers, sailors, marines, and civilian employees of the United States (Paragraph 73), and U.S. citizens abroad (Paragraph 78).  The enumeration of sailors in 1930 was different than in prior years.  While officers of U.S.-flag merchant vessels were to “be enumerated at their homes on land, where they will be reported by some member of the family,” crew members “of vessels in foreign or intercoastal trade” and “sea-going private vessels” were were not to be reported by as residing with their families (Paragraphs 75-76).  Instead, crew members were enumerated separately and should be found in the records reproduced as National Archives Microfilm Publication M1932, 1930 Census of Merchant Seamen (3 rolls).  (For more information, see  Bureau of the Census, Department of Commerce, Form 15-100, Fifteenth Census:  Instructions to Enumerators  Population and Agriculture (Washington:  Government Printing Office, 1930), pp. 13-14).

 

1940 Census

 

National Archives Microfilm Publication T627, Sixteenth Census of the United States, 1940, has census schedules for the continental United States, the territories of Alaska and Hawaii, and the overseas possessions of American Samoa, Guam, Panama Canal Zone, Puerto Rico, and U.S. Virgin Islands.  There are no other census schedules for Americans living outside the continental United States. According to Karen M. Mills, Americans Overseas in U.S. Censuses (Bureau of Census Technical Paper 62, 1993), page 3, “... a 1950 census report stated that in the 1940 census, the War and Navy Departments provided the Census Bureau with the number of their personnel stationed abroad, and the State Department furnished counts of Americans in the diplomatic service abroad and their dependents living with them.”  However, this information was not retained by the Bureau of the Census. Such information appears to have been collected for informational or statistical purposes only.

 

Instructions to enumerators for the 1940 census indicated in Paragraph 326 that stateside members of the Armed Forces were to be enumerated at the place near where they were stationed:

 

326. Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines.Enumerate soldiers, sailors, and marines in the Army or Navy of the United States as residents of the place where they usually sleep in the area where they are stationed. If, therefore, any household in your district reports that one of its members is a soldier, sailor, or marine stationed elsewhere, do not report him as a member of that household.

 

However, it is possible that members of the Armed Forces who were abroad were reported by their families under the general provisions of Paragraph 306a, which indicated that persons to be counted as members of the household included “Members of the household temporarily absent at the time of the enumeration, either in foreign countries or elsewhere in the United States, on business or visiting.”

 

Instructions concerning officers and crews of U.S.-flag vessels were substantially the same as 1930, except that census schedules with vessel crew members are likely found in an enumeration district in either the vessel’s home port or the port where the vessel was on April 1, 1940, the official census day.  (For more information, see Form PA-1, Instructions to Enumerators, Population and Agriculture, 1940, pp. 15, 19).

 

1950 Census

 

National Archives Microfilm Publication T628, Seventeenth Census of the United States, 1950 (which will be digitally released on April 1, 2022, on the NARA website), has census schedules for the continental United States, the territories of Alaska and Hawaii, and the overseas possessions of American Samoa, Guam, Panama Canal Zone, Puerto Rico, and Virgin Islands.

 

For the taking of the 1950 census, the Census Bureau entered into cooperative agreements with the U.S. Departments of Defense and State, and the Maritime Administration, to provide information on personnel and dependents under their authority.  The U.S. Attorney General issued an opinion in 1949 that approved the legality of the Census Bureau’s plans for enumerating Americans overseas but not including them in the total population figures for any state or in the total population of the continental United States. Thus, it is unlikely that any data obtained on Americans overseas was transcribed by Census Bureau employees onto Form P1, 1950 Census of Population and Housing, for U.S. enumeration districts where the individuals previously resided.  Such information appears to have been collected for informational or statistical purposes only.  In Paragraphs 77i and 77j of their instructions, enumerators were told:

 

77i.  Do not enumerate persons working abroad for the United States Government if their regular place of duty is abroad.  Such persons will be enumerated under special procedures. 

   However, you must enumerate as a resident of your ED any person who usually lives there if he is temporarily abroad on a vacation or in connection with his work.  A United States Government employee temporarily abroad in connection with his work should be enumerated at his usual place of residence in your ED unless his regular place of duty is abroad.

 

77j.  Do not enumerate soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen not now living in your ED.  Household members who are absent on military service should not be enumerated.  (For more information, see Urban and Rural Enumerator's Reference Manual, 1950 Census of the United States, p. 24).

 

However, census schedules exist for Canton [Kanton], Johnston, Midway, and Wake Islands that include U.S. military personnel and civilian contractors and their dependents.  These records were retained by the Census Bureau’s Field Division among administrative records in the series, “Records Relating to the 1950 Decennial Census of Territories, 1948–1951” (NAID 5550637) relating to the taking of the census in U.S. territories and possessions. These schedules will be part of the 1950 Census release on April 1, 2022.

 

In addition, the name and rank of a few U.S. military personnel overseas are included in correspondence in “Binder 36-C – Members of Armed Forces and U.S. Citizens Abroad” (NAID 205683289).

 

Instructions concerning officers and crews of U.S.-flag vessels were substantially the same as 1940, and census schedules with vessel crew members are likely found in an enumeration district in either the vessel’s home port or the port where the vessel was on April 1, 1950, the official census day.

 

No other records of Americans overseas are part of the 1950 census.