Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Today: the 1820 Census of Manufactures and A Western Mass. Conference Next Month!

One of the things on my shortlist of chores this morning was to drive over to Pittsfield and pop into the Silvio O. Conte branch of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). I needed to check out a bit of “obscuriana” in the microfilmed copy of the manuscript 1820 Census of Manufactures for the Madison/Culpeper/Orange county area in the state of Virginia.  

While it’s not really a “census” in the truest sense of the word, and can also be woefully and frustratingly incomplete, depending upon the county and state you’re interested in, the 1820 Census of Manufactures is a much underused resource by genealogists and is completely overshadowed by its “big brother”, the 1820 population schedule.  

What’s so great about it?  For one thing, it can often help identify sons with “manufacturing” businesses – millers, blacksmiths, tanners and the like - who were not heads of households in their own right, and thus are not accounted for in the “real” 1820 Census except as tick marks. Second, it occasionally identifies the specific location in a county that the family/business is located.  One individual who operated a distillery described his business as being “… at the headwaters of Buffalo Creek in the Great State of Virginia”, which may very well have been the way he promoted his whisky. There’s a certain cachet to clean and refreshing “Buffalo Creek Whisky”…

Plus, since no early census actually clues us in as to our ancestors’ occupations, this can be a real help in our understanding of family. Farmers with five acres of apple orchards often became “manufacturers” of hard cider in the fall after the harvest and many are accounted for in the Census of Manufactures.

One of the frustrating things about working with that “census” schedule is that the assistant marshals who took the census were given a list of questions to complete. How they treated the responses was apparently not standardized. Sometimes, they gave the questions to the “manufacturers” on sheets of paper, who then filled them out in their own hand.  Others asked the questions and provided a “county narrative” summarizing each of the individual responses.  Still others constructed the 19th century equivalent of spreadsheets.

Worst of all, many county schedules did not survive at all.

Nonetheless, it’s still a great resource and one of the things that gets me over the mountain to NARA - Pittsfield. At least, it has in the past.

But not for much longer.

Soon, of course, the Pittsfield facility (at least the part that serves genealogists) will close as part of NARA’s “cost reduction.”  I wrote about that earlier this year, so I won’t belabor the point again.
However, before that closing happens at the end of September, the Friends of The National Archives – Pittsfield will once again host yet another fun-filled “Life in the Past Lane” conference.  This will be the 8th annual event, and like those in recent years, will take place at the classic Williams Inn in Williamstown, MA.  

The date is Saturday, September 17th, 2011.  Save it!

Think about it…mid-September in the Berkshires.  The classic Williams Inn and a really good sit-down lunch.  Genealogy all day long.  What’s not to like???

Do it now, and you can take advantage of the “early bird” rate and save some bucks.  Plus, tell your friends.  Make a weekend of it.  (Hint: most of the summer people will have gone back to their cities of asphalt and cement and the buses of leaf-peepers won’t be there yet; the Berkshires will be EMPTY and will be just waiting to impress you…!!!)

As you look over the program, you’ll note that there are TWO (count ‘em …two…) TRACKS this year, and for whatever it’s worth, I’ll be speaking twice – once on German research (emphasis on the Internet) and once on city directories.  Plus, we’ll be in our usual space (as “Jonathan Sheppard Books”) with tables of books.

So… make plans to join us NOW!!!

Oh… and by the way, I couldn’t find the guy I was looking for in the “1820 Census of Manufactures” because 2 of the 3 Virginia counties’ schedules did not survive.  

Guess he shoulda moved earlier…

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