How much corn, potatoes, flax, sugar and honey did your great-great grandfather farmer produce in 1860? How successful was your great grandfather's small manufacturing business in 1880? How many men and women did he employ and what did he pay them?
Where would a researcher find such revealing information about their ancestors? In the census - but not the one we usually refer to as "the census."
Researchers are most familiar with the national population survey taken every 10 years since 1790. Those records vary in the information they provide; the census initially began to determine population for elected representation.
But the government also wanted other information, so it created a variety of surveys, called schedules, which provided insight and clues for researchers.
(1850, 1860, 1870 and 1880). In 1850, you'll find only farms that produced more than $100 a year worth of products. By 1870, farms less than three acres or those that produced less than $500 worth of products were not included.
(1820, 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1900 and 1910). The enumeration includes information about the articles manufactured, such as the item's market value, and the kinds, quantities and costs of raw materials; also, the number of men, women, boys, and girls employed; the quantity and kinds of machinery; and the amount of capital invested.
(1850, 1860, 1870 and 1880). These have limited value because only individuals who died the 12 months preceding the population schedules were included. For example, anyone who died between June 1, 1859 and May 31, 1860 could be listed on the 1860 Mortality Schedule. Since most states did not require official reporting of deaths until the 20th century, these mortality schedules may be the only record of a cause of death.
(1890). This can be used as a substitute for the 1890 population schedule, which was destroyed by fire. It was intended to record Civil War Union veterans but some Confederates are listed as are some veterans of the War of 1812. The schedules for 1890 are available (alphabetically) for states Alabama through Kansas, and also half of Kentucky. The last half of Kentucky through Wyoming were destroyed or lost.
(1850, 1860).These are lists of slave owners by name with a count of their slaves. The slaves are not listed by name but by sex and age.
(1850, 1860, 1870, 1880). You won't find information on a particular relative, but you'll get a good overview of the community where your ancestors lived. For each community, the schedule lists the number of schools, libraries, newspapers, churches, paupers, and average wages paid to some groups of people.
Finding microfilm of these special schedules is a challenge. In 1918 and 1919, the census bureau distributed the originals to various repositories. Many records disappeared and have never been accounted for.
After the National Archives was founded, it attempted to gather them. The archives has complete sets for some states and none for others. Check the online microfilm catalog at http://tinyurl.com/c9qfza to see what's available for use at the archives or for rent or purchase. From this link, http://tinyurl.com/33t97xw, scroll to the bottom of the page to find a table of "States and Territories" with links for each. With a click the reader can see what special schedules exist for a specific area.
Ancestry.com has the mortality schedules online for 1850 through 1880 and two state mortality schedules (Colorado and Florida) for 1885. Ancestry also has digitized the available veterans schedules. Subscribers can access these at http://tinyurl.com/yajff4b.
Researchers should check with specific state archives that may have acquired the records for their areas. Local areas with good genealogy libraries also sometimes have microfilm of these records.