Interpreting Census Household Data

15 April 2014

Census records are a mainstay of research into past societies. While using them, we encounter many situations that prompt us to think, Hunh?  Why is this? Are my prior assumptions wrong?

The 1850 U.S. Census of St. Landry Parish, Louisiana, presents one of those situations. The population schedule shows the following three individuals:1

Other evidence suggests that Marguerite is the mother of Samuel and Ferdinand. Does somthing strike you as peculiar?

1. 1850 U.S. census, St. Landry Parish, Louisiana, population schedule, stamped p. 7 verso; digital image, FamilySearch ( : accessed 30 March 2014).




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Submitted bygreglovelaceon Tue, 04/15/2014 - 08:59

Well, the first thing I see is the difference in the surname.  But also the fact that Marguerite is living in a different household.  While she is still living beside her two supposed sons, she is listed in a separate household.  She also owns real estate, while the sons are not listed with any real estate value and are both employed as laborers.  So we should surely ask, "Why is this?"

Submitted byJadeon Tue, 04/15/2014 - 11:31

It is possible that there were two domiciles on the same property that Marguerite was assessed taxes on.  I do not see this as peculiar.  The (possible sons?)  boys could come and go on their own business.

There are many examples of a father's informally dividing property when a daughter married, her husband (probably with the father's help) building a house.  In many German communities it was common for a "grandfather house" to be built on the same property for elderly parents to live in.  A  second house could be built on a property that a growing and probably more prosperous family would move into, rather than adding on to the original home: a frame house would not attach well to a chinked-log cabin -- not that this particular scenario would apply to Louisiana.

Such remaining extra domiciles could be from a past generation's family arrangement.  It is possible that Marguerite was living on her dower-interest property from her last marriage, or that she had been living on the same property for 40 years.

While not a peculiarity, there is an obvious question as to how she acquired her interest in the real estate attributed to her.


Submitted bymosemannon Tue, 04/15/2014 - 12:25

I agree with Greg's observations.  I also wonder if Marguerite was their mother, did she own the dwelling in which Samuel and Ferdinand were living?


Submitted byrworthingtonon Tue, 04/15/2014 - 17:21

No disagreement with any of the above replies. I do have a list of questions that I would try to answer elsewhere. Your comment about other document leads me to look to see if she married a 2nd time, to resolve the Surname difference. It would appear that the father is no longer in the picture as well. The age of the son's are possible / probable, so no red flags there, for me anyway.

Thank you for the question.