Slave Schedules Require a Strategy

by J. Mark Lowe | Feb 26, 2013

J. Mark Lowe

U.S. census records were collected and compiled with the intent of counting every person living in the states for the purpose of determining representation in Congress. From the first enumeration in 1790, revision of those schedules included determining the acreage of agricultural land and production, a measurement of industrial growth and development and the population count of slaves and their housing.

Slave schedules (also referred to as Schedule 2) are available for census years 1850 and 1860. Records were generally compiled in the Southern slave-holding states and records are extant for Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, New Jersey, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Virginia. They are available at the U.S. National Archives, in most state archives and may be available in other libraries and archives in your area. A partial set of searchable images is available at

What Was Included?

Since the purpose of the slave schedule was to provide a count of slaves, the enumeration included the name of the slave owner, the number of slaves, age, sex, color, whether the slave was fugitive from state, the number manumitted, and whether deaf and dumb, blind, insane or idiotic. The 1860 enumeration added the number of slave houses.

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1860 U.S. Census, Slave Schedule, Baker County, Georgia, Milford District p 7. National Archives Microfilm M432.


Predict, Examine, Compare and Correlate

When using slave schedules, one strategy for use is to Predict, Examine, Compare and Correlate. Based on our previous research, predict what should appear on the record, examine the record carefully, comparing the data reported to the predicted data, and correlate this information with other resources. Let's look at an example:

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I.S. Smith of Chattooga County, Georgia reported six slaves in the 1850 slave schedule: a 26- year-old black female, a 4-year-old mulatto male, a 40-year-old black male, a 32-year-old black male, a 13-year-old black female, and a 12-year-old black female. This enumeration does not indicate the names of the slaves or any relationship between the individuals enumerated. [1]

Although the schedules may not provide all the information we desire, there are ways to connect this information to other records and ways to use this schedule for our research purposes. This record connects to the 1850 Free Schedule for I.S. Smith and family. This shows us that Isaac S. Smith is a 30-year-old merchant born in Virginia. There should be other records that will correlate to the individuals enumerated in this schedule. We could also look for Isaac S. Smith's slave household in 1860 for comparison.

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The 1860 schedule reported a 25-year-old mulatto female, a 23-year-old black male, a 12-year-old mulatto female, a 9-year-old mulatto female and a 7-year-old black male. [2] This record appears to report that three of these slaves were fugitive at the time of this enumeration and the 7-year-old black male had been manumitted, but the summary at the bottom of the page reported no fugitives or manumissions. The numeral one is probably the number of slave houses. It is important to compare the schedules for matching individuals and those who are missing.

The instructions for the enumerators supplied the circumstances when a slave might not be reported. The marks under column 6 report a fugitive slave who having 'escaped' within the year and not returned to the owner. If a slave 'escaped' after 1 June, they were to be reported as though they were there. A slave who might have died between 1 June and the date of enumeration would be reported as though they were living, while a slave who died prior to 1 June within the year would not be reported or counted.

Let's continue using our strategy of Predict, Examine, Compare, and Correlate with the case of Mariah Gaines Polk of Montgomery County, Tennessee. According to her death certificate, her parents were Manke [Manica] and Clarise Gaines.

According to the 1870 census, Manica Gaines/Gains and family were living in the Port Royal area of Montgomery County, Tennessee. Their enumeration follows:

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Marion Gaines listing, Family 48/48, 1870 U.S. Population Census, Montgomery County, Tennessee, Civil District No 5, page 7, lines 36-39. National Archives Microfilm M593, Roll1551.

Predicting how they would appear in the 1860 slave schedule is the first step in this process. We would be looking for a family group with a male aged 42, a female aged 32, a female aged 7, and a male aged 5.

Based on previous research, the young slave owner was named William Gaines. Let take a look at the 1860 slave schedule. First, we see our slave owner, W. Gaines being reported by his guardian, James E. Gaines. The slave schedule contains a long list, but here is no male in the 40-year-age range, and only one female in the 30-year-age range. There are several children who fit the ages of Maria and Sam. Many of these enumerations are not arranged to easily connect the individuals to what is known about them, generally a later reported age. In some cases, we might determine the individual we seek immediately. More often we can determine who they might be and use this record to help us find additional information.

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Since slave schedules are most useful when correlated with other records, we should consider what records are available. In the 1870 U.S. Census, the Marion/Manica Gaines family was enumerated two houses before Sallie Allen and William Gaines. The parents of William N. Gaines, the son of A. C. and Louisa Norfleet Gaines, died before he turned 8 years old and William was raised by his aunt Sallie Allen. [3]

William N. Gaines inherited a large estate at the time of his father's death. J. E. Gaines, the brother of A. C. Gaines, was appointed guardian for William. Within the guardian reports filed in 1858 by J.E. Gaines the following list of slaves reported: "Maria & Sam, children of Clarisa, Sam [aged] 3 & Maria [aged] 5." [4][5] This correlates with the data collected from the census records and slave schedules.

Correlating With Other Records

Consider the many options for correlating the individuals enumerated within a slave schedule. Here are some of my favorites:

    • County Slave Schedules: In some states, annual slave schedule books were maintained by counties as required by state law.

    • Dower Slave Schedules: When a male slave owner died, he might often leave his wife a life interest in his property and slaves, actually leaving the property and slaves to his children at her death. This annual record is reported in some states in the dower slave schedules.

    • Bill of Sale: In some locations, records of slave sales are recorded and are extant. Occasionally, these were recorded in deed books.

    • Chancery or Equity Court Cases: Because the value of slaves was so great, and the ability to place a specific dollar value on an individual was subject to personal judgment, the chance for a court case regarding the division of an estate containing slaves is great. These cases are usually located at the county level.

    • Tax Lists: County tax lists and tax assessment books often contain information about slave families and free blacks as well. Tax records may contain the names of slaves recorded by the owner for taxation purposes. Immediately after emancipation, you will the names of former slaves paying a poll tax annually as well. This will give you an accurate location of the family after emancipation. You might be able to follow them year-by-year through the tax registers.


Slave schedules are an important record in locating enslaved African Americans and their slave owners. Remember to use a proven strategy and examine the records carefully. Predict, Examine, Compare and Correlate to successfully use these records.

[1] I.S. Smith listing, 1850 U.S. Census, Slave Schedule, Chattooga County, Georgia, Broom Valley district, p 1, col 1, lines 16-21. National Archives Microfilm M432.

[2] I.S. Smith listing, 1860 U.S. Census, Slave Schedule, Chattooga County, Georgia, Broom Valley district, p 2, col 1, lines 35-40. National Archives Microfilm M653.

[3] 1850 U.S. Population Census, Robertson County, Tennessee, Civil District No 7, Household 1305, Lines 6-14. National Archives Microfilm M432, Roll 894.

[4] "Will of Abraham C. Gaines," 1857, Montgomery County, Tennessee, Will Book O, page 366, Montgomery County Archives, Clarksville, Tennessee.

[5] "Inventory of A. C. Gaines," 1 July 1858, Montgomery County, Tennessee, Will Book O, pages 432-433, 438, Montgomery County Archives, Clarksville, Tennessee.

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