Federal Mortality Schedules

Anyone working on their family tree has checked at least one set of US Federal Census, depending on when their ancestors lived. Each and every one offers its own unique insight to a relative’s life at that moment.

Yet, one type of census might not be as familiar but should be used by those doing family research. The US Federal government between 1850 and 1900 (ever ten years), had he U.S. census enumerators collect all the normal census information plus even more: information about all persons who had died within the 12 months preceding the census taking. Such lists were known as the “Mortality Schedules”.

If a certain census year between 1850 and 1900 you were not able to locate an ancestor, you might find their name on a mortality schedule. Not just the person’s name but their sex, age, race/color, widowed or not, place of birth, month of death, occupation, how long a person was ill and cause of death. The dates of a person’s death to be on the schedule had to be between June 1st and May 31 of the year prior to the census. So those dates prior to the official June 1, 1850 census, the June 1, 1860 census, etc., and June 2, 1890.

Different years for the mortality schedules also saw a few different questions asked. In 1870 added if the father and/or mother were of foreign birth and they removed the question about the number of days a person was ill. For 1880 some very interesting items were added to the schedule. Asked the place of birth of the deceased’s mother and father, how long the deceased had been a resident of the county, where the disease was contracted if not at the place of death and the name of the attending physician.

Mortality Schedules that typically were kept separate from the official census returns. The 1850 and 1860 Mortality Schedules have slaves listed. However, slave deaths apparently were under-reported; many who are known to have died within the time frame covered were never recorded in the Mortality Schedules.

Unfortunately, the census records for 1890 were destroyed in the 1921 fire. Also, the 1900 mortality schedule was taken and statistics collected then the original records ordered destroyed by Congress. Only a copy of the Minnesota 1900 mortally schedule was found years later.

Between 1850 and 1880 not every state or territory was covered every census year. Plus not every death the year before a census was reported. It is estimated 20 to 40 percent of deaths were NOT reported. A reminder if your ancestor died after a census year up to 9 years after the census, that ancestor would not be reported on any census form. Many states did a state census in-between the Federal census years and they included a mortally schedule.

Viewing the mortality schedules on your ancestors can really help with finding out how they died especially if it was some unusual situation, such as hit by a train, an explosion, murder, kicked by an animal, etc. Knowing that and a date, use then a hometown newspaper to see if additional articles were written about what happened.

Two good online resources for mortality schedules are FamilySearch.org and Mortality-Schedules.com. Plus fee subscription Ancestry.com. Also, use a local Family History Center, they will also have databases that are not online.

This information can be very valuable if you do not know where an ancestor was buried or there is no headstone.

Photos: 1880-Kentucky; Cemetery; and Joshua Hiller, married, age 28 who was murdered-Nov. 1869 – listed in the 1870 Berks Co., PA schedule (Slabbed to death).

Related FamilyTree.com Blogs:

1850 Mortality Schedule

National Death Registers

A Person’s Cause of Death

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