Have you ever taken a good, close look at the U.S. census mortality schedules? Have you ever used them even once? If the answer is no to either one of those questions, you need to get serious learning about all they have to offer.
The U.S. government collected mortality statistics during the census years covering 1850-1885. Each is important in its own way both because of the time period and the data that was recorded.
Particularly in areas that didn’t keep death records and/or gravestones are rarely found, the mortality schedules serve as an excellent replacement.
Ancestry has the indexed set of mortality schedules, but to access them, scroll down below the regular census collections.
The index is free to search so if you don’t have a current subscription, it can still be accessed so you know whether or not you need to head to a library to read it.
Let’s take a look at an example from each of the four years in which they were kept.
The 1850 mortality schedule was simple and to the point. The entry is for Sam Williams, part of my husband’s extended Williams family. Samuel died in November 1849 in Bedford County, Virginia.
Sam Williams was 70 years old when he died, male, widowed, born in Virginia, died in November 1849 of carcinoma, which he had had for about one year. His occupation was farmer.
When the came came for the 1860 enumeration, the format was pretty much the same. Here, to my surprise, I discovered that my 4X great grandfather, Thomas Adams, had actually lived in the United States. The Adams were Loyalists and Thomas’s father, John, headed for the fall 1783 fleet that sailed from New York to Canada. Thomas was born shortly after the family landed. In 1851, Thomas and wife Sarah were living on Deer Island and I had assumed that both died there.
Thomas Adams 77 M N. Brunswick July Fisherman Old age
Thomas was 77 years old, male, born in New Brunswick, died in July 1859. His occupation was fisherman and he died of old age. Since I found no record of Sarah after 1851, including in the 1860 census of Calais, Maine, where Thomas died, my thinking is that Sarah predeceased him and he then went to live with son Daniel Adams’ family in Calais.
The 1880 census again collected the same information:
Stewart, William, 80, male, white, widowed, both parents foreign born, died April 1880, Fever
William Stewart was the brother of my 3X great grandfather, John Stewart, another Loyalist family. John Stewart left Washington County, Maine and moved northward into Aroostook County, perhaps because his brother was living there. This schedule told me more than I ever would have been able to learn about William Stewart in New Brunswick records.
The last of the mortality schedules had one fabulous addition over previous years – it gave the family enumeration number with whom the deceased was living. Knowing the family is a bonanza in terms of data.
Red arrow indicates the family number in the enumeration
We’re back in Morgan County, Tennessee and there are three names of interest on this list.
There are two babies in Household 34, no given names, but surnames are Williams. Each died at the age of one day (1/30). The first was a male who died in August 1879. The second was a female who died in May 1880. Both were premature births after seven-month pregnancies.
John Benjamin Williams was the head of household #34 and he was the sheriff. John married Virginia Davis on 23 March 1879 in Morgan County, Tennessee.
John B. Williams, 1880 Census, Morgan County, Tennessee
John and Virginia are living at the county jail and there are no children in their home. Knowing that they married in March 1879, one might think that Virginia could well be pregnant and ready to give birth any day to their first child.
The mortality schedule paints a much more grim picture. Virginia was about two months pregnant when she married. She gave birth to a premature little boy who died soon after.
Even more heartbreaking is the knowledge that she was pregnant once again in October of 1879, only to have the same scenario unfold in May 1880. A premature daughter was born to them and she, too, died within hours of her birth.
1880 was a particularly said year for the Williams family because John Williams, 64, in household #32, died of uremic poisoning. John was the father of John Benjamin Williams.
There are no death records for this era in Morgan County, so the mortality schedule is the only record of John’s death and both the births and deaths of two infants.
If you don’t regularly check the mortality schedules, it’s a habit you need to develop. You might be surprised at what you find.