Read the Instructions… If You Can

Yesterday, I mused about my great-great-grandfather John Kelley and why he’s listed on the 1860 agricultural schedule with no livestock and no crops. I gave three theories why this might be:

  • He raised something completely different, something that isn’t listed on the schedule.
  • He didn’t tell the enumerator what he raised.
  • The enumerator didn’t write it down or didn’t copy it over from his notes to this final copy.

No Story Too Small readers are awesome! Some came up with additional theories. Jade pointed out that the schedule was supposed to report the activity of the year prior to the official census date of June 2; perhaps John had recently acquired the land and hadn’t yet harvested anything. Great suggestion! In this case, however, John had acquired the land after his mother died in 1852.

Jade also wondered if there was a crop failure. We can’t discount that. (I’ve often said that if you want to gamble, don’t go to Vegas; just own a farm.)

Purslaneforever wondered if perhaps John leased the farm to someone else and that’s why the crops don’t show up. That got me wondering — how would a leased farm show up in the 1860 agricultural schedule? Would it be under the land owner or the person leasing it?

I couldn’t find the enumerator instructions for the 1860 agricultural schedule. There’s good reason for that. According to the Census Bureau, “No printed instructions were issued with reference to the schedules of 1860.” (Instructions for 1850 – 1900 are available as a PDF from the Census Bureau).


Really? They give the enumerators a form with 48 columns without any instructions?!

There were instructions for the 1850 schedule:

“1. Under heading 1, entitled ‘Name of individual managing his farm or plantation,’ insert the name of the person residing upon or having charge of the farm, whether as owner, agent, or tenant.”

The enumerator in 1860 (Dawson (?) Teal) was not the same enumerator as 1850 (J. Shelley). Would he have followed the 1850 instructions and listed farms under the name of the person having charge of the farm (in other words, the lessee/tenant)? Or would he have listed everything under the owner, regardless of who had charge? Or would he have split the two: listing the land under the owner and the crops and livestock under the lessee/tenant?

Unfortunately, we may never know. My experience with Perry County land records is that leases were not commonly recorded in this time period. Also, there would be informal arrangements that wouldn’t even have been written down, let alone recorded at the courthouse.

So, we should add a fourth possibility to why John Kelley didn’t have any livestock or crops listed:

  • He leased the land to someone else and the enumerator opted to list the crops and livestock with the lessee.

I’m a big proponent of going through the enumerator’s instructions to see how they were supposed to record things. It would have helped had the 1860 agricultural schedule had some instructions!

Not John Kelley's farm, but for some reason, this is how I picture it. Maybe I'm just bitter that I don't know what he raised in 1860.

Not John Kelley’s farm, but for some reason, this is how I picture it. Maybe I’m just bitter that I don’t know what he raised in 1860.

5 thoughts on “Read the Instructions… If You Can

  1. Jeanne Bryan Insalaco

    More interesting tidbits you added! A shame that it often is left to each census taker as to what they are or are not going to write down. I didn’t know there was directions for them. Where would you normally find them at? I plan on checking the agriculture schedules on my ancestor soon. I have seen them but didn’t really look at them. Another item to search for! LOL. Great detective work. I love being Nancy Drew!

  2. David E Paterson

    Good news! The official publication you read was wrong. There were printed instructions; it’s just the census bureau didn’t have a copy — so the writer of that guide just ASSUMED
    there were none. You know what happens when we assume. It also reminds us that lack of evidence for something does not prove it didn’t exist. Anyway, a few years ago an employee in a different federal department came across a copy in the department’s files. And here it is:

    Also, two academics wrote a 278-page book on how to interpret and analyze the 1860 Agricultural schedule to answer the very question you ask:
    Frederick A Bode & Donald E. Ginter, Farm Tenancy and the Census in Antebellum Georgia (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1986)

    Enjoy 2016!!!

    1. Amy Johnson Crow Post author

      David — Thank you for forwarding that! I appreciate it. I’ll have to check out the Bode/Ginter book. (You know, as a little light reading 😉 )

      To my original question of how leased land would be listed is included in the instructions you linked: “Schedule 4 – Agriculture. 1. Name of Owner … insert the name of the person residing upon or having charge of the farm, whether as owner, agent, or tenant.” So even if John Kelley was leasing the land, he should have been listed on the ag schedule, provided that the other criteria were met.

      Thanks again!


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