We have all used census records to pinpoint our families’ location during a certain time. They are useful whether your ancestor is a city dweller or a farmer. If we find our farm families in census records, we are likely to find the clues needed to search for land records. One of the other census features that I find useful whether you are researching in Canada or the United States is the Agricultural Census Schedules. Let’s look.
The NGS Magazine October-December 2022 has a comprehensive article about the Agricultural Census Schedules. Not every state has them available and sadly in later years individual censuses were destroyed after the information was compiled. However, we can still find interesting things about our families by scoping out the ones that do exist. I have especially appreciated the ones available for relatives in the early years of Canada. I have found records from the 1861 and 1871 Agricultural Schedules.
Often, we wonder what their lives were like back then and these schedules give us a glimpse into that time. In the 1861 agricultural census you can learn the Concession and Lot numbers, the number of acres owned and how much was under cultivation, the types of crops raised plus the number of bushels or pounds produced. In addition, the cash value of the land and machinery was noted. All of this tells us a bit more about the family and their activities. You can look at neighboring farms and see how they compare. How was your family doing.
I am especially interested in what animals they owned. Were they farming with oxen or horses? Did they raise their own pigs and cattle? Perhaps their livestock and gardens kept them supplied in food in those early hard years of pioneering. For example, in the 1871 census my ancestor owned two oxen, two milk cows, plus sheep and swine. They also had eighty pounds of maple syrup, two hundred pounds of butter, and twenty-seven yards of homemade cloth woven. Industrious people it would appear.
You will want to use the agricultural census in conjunction with the regular census to paint a more complete picture. If you are looking for your ancestor in the Agricultural Census Schedule for Canada in one of the paid data bases such as Ancestry, first find your ancestor in the “regular census.” Once you have done that, note the page number on the actual census form as well as the number associated with your ancestor on that page. You then need to go towards the end of that digital group of pages to find the agricultural information. Unlike the US Agricultural Schedules, the Canadian ones are listed without names but instead reference the page number and number associated with your ancestor on the main census. For example, my ancestor was listed on page 45 with number 7 noted by his name. There are three separate sections. The first deals specifically with farming, the second with a list of businesses (think blacksmith) or similar if a small township, and the third relates to Forestry. There was plenty of lumber in this part of Canada. In the case of my ancestor, they had twelve cords of lumber which I imagine was used for heating their home. There is one more section for Fisheries and Shipping but since this was a landlocked township, none of the residence had anything noted. If your ancestor has a fishing background or lived near water, it might be worth exploring.
The United States Agricultural Census Schedule differs from Canada in the ones that I have seen. The individual farmers names are listed instead of the coding that relates to the actual census. They too provide valuable information to inform us about how our ancestors lived. The usual information includes the number of acres and value, ownership, machinery and value, type and number of livestock, acres cultivated, and crops harvested.
These agricultural records can be found on Ancestry. They are not always obvious to try looking in the actual census record first for your ancestor and then looking towards the last section of those records. The Library and Archives of Canada has a helpful page regarding Canadian Census Records. In addition to paid sites, try the National Archives—they have a page with information about the nonpopulation census records and schedules.
I hope I’ve enticed you to explore the Agricultural Census Schedules. They do give you more information and context about your family. Happy Exploring!
With a lifelong passion for genealogy and history, the author enjoys the opportunity to share genealogy tidbits, inspiring others to research and write their family story.