U.S. Presidents in the Census
by Julie Hill
Posted on September 13, 2011
In every US Federal Population Census, one individual is guaranteed
to have the following unique entry in the field, Occupation, Trade, or Profession: President
of the United States. After we added the 1790 to 1930 US Census records to Archives.com recently, we looked through the collections for Commanders in Chief, sure to be counted just like the rest of us. In the case of Zachary Taylor, this singular vocation was
abbreviated "Prest U.S."
Maybe the enumerator wouldn't have been in such a rush if "Old
Rough and Ready" had still been president on August 31, 1850, when he was
counted in the census for the last time. In fact, Taylor had been dead since
July 9. His death, popularly blamed on over-indulgence in cherries and cold
milk at a hot Fourth of July picnic, continues to inspire assassination
theories. Taylor had opposed a package of bills that might introduce slavery
into recently acquired southwest territories. Vice-President Millard Fillmore openly
supported the bills, known as the Compromise of 1850. After Taylor's death,
Fillmore signed the Compromise, which also introduced the Fugitive Slave Act, requiring
runaway slaves to be returned to their masters and fining officials who did not
arrest fugitive slaves.
Some historians saw Taylor's death as too convenient for
Southern interests and were further suspicious of the vague sickness that
shared gastrointestinal symptoms with arsenic poisoning. In 1991, Taylor's body
was exhumed to undergo tests for indications of poisoning. Though traces of
arsenic were found in his remains, the examiners ruled that it was not enough
to have been lethal. Still, considering alternative theories is part of what makes history--whether
about celebrities, your ancestors, or maybe your celebrity ancestors--so intriguing.
Perhaps less mysterious than his death is Taylor's post-mortem appearance in the
census. In 1850, enumerators were instructed to record all persons
living on June 1, including those who had since died and excluding those who
had since been born. Because the rule also applied to occupation, Millard Fillmore was recorded as the Vice President when the census-taker arrived on July 31, even though he had been Chief Executive since July 9.
We found some more presidential entries. Ulysses S. Grant's name is so illegible in the 1870 Census that he is listed in the search results as "U ? Grant":
Like Millard Fillmore, William McKinley was counted in his home state of New York despite living in the White House at the time of the census:
Theodore Roosevelt's two terms as president (1901-1909) happened to fall between two censuses, but he is listed as Governor of New York in 1900:
President of the United States might be the most unique occupation in any census, but it's only one of many interesting answers to the question, "What did your ancestors do?" Have you found any surprises in the occupation field? Share your discoveries in the comments below.
You can search the entire census from 1790 to 1930 on Archives.com. Members log in here to begin searching, or sign up for a membership today.
Find Records Now for Free
Start your free trial today to learn more about your ancestors using our powerful and intuitive search. Cancel any time, no strings attached.