Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Native Americans in the Census, 1860–1890

By James P. Collins
Writing in Prologue
Summer 2006, Vol. 38, No. 2
A Publication of the National Archives

An examination of the annual census records from 1860 to 1890 shows the beginnings of the enumeration of Native Americans in the census. Article I, section 2, of the Constitution requires a census to be taken every 10 years so that seats in the House of Representatives can be apportioned among the states. Section 2 excludes "Indians not taxed"—those Indians living on reservations or those roaming in unsettled areas of the country.

The first federal decennial census that clearly identifies any Native Americans is the 1860 census.1 The instructions to the 1860 census enumerators defined who was to be counted and who was not:

Indians not taxed are not to be enumerated. The families of Indians who have renounced tribal rule, and who under state or territory laws exercise the rights of citizens, are to be enumerated.2

Most genealogy guides that address Native Americans in the census incorrectly state that the first federal decennial census in which at least a portion of the Indian population is enumerated is 1870. Although the 1870 census schedule is the first to list "Indian" as a choice in the column heading for "Color," Native Americans were enumerated earlier. Even though the 1860 census schedule does not include "Indian" as a choice in the column heading for "Color," enumerators nevertheless followed the instructions cited in the previous paragraph and recorded more than 40,000 Indians.

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