Sunday, January 22, 2012

No Hemp, But How About Oatmeal with Syrup?

As I was reviewing data for my Spencer family, I found that now has available several Agricultural censuses from the 1800's.  We all know the standard Population Schedules that were performed every ten years listing household members.  Agricultural, Industrial, and other specific censuses were also taken to gauge the economic state of the country.

Most of my ancestors were farmers.  These agricultural census returns give a very detailed glimpse into life on an 1800's farm.  Below I have transcribed the agricultural return for my ancestors and their relations who lived in Town of Sheldon and Town of Bennington, Wyoming County, New York, in 1850.  I find it fascinating to see what they owned, grew, and sold from their farm.  Noting the amount of maple sugar, I can surmise they had a lot of maple trees!  This area also was later home to several cheese factories.

Using the dollar calculator on, I found Wright Spencer's farm to be "worth" upward of $100,000, though the definition of worth varies.  Wright's $10 of 1850's farm machinery is worth about $400 today.  Machinery then was likely all manually run.  His $125 in livestock was small compared to many of his neighbors and worth about $3,500 today.  Interesting to ponder.

Don't forget to look for agricultural census records for your family.  Who knows what new clues you might uncover!

I shared this information with my mom and she said she will always think of the Spencer's when she eats her maple oatmeal :)

Source:  U.S. Census Non-Population Schedules, New York, 1850-1880 [database online]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2010.  (page 487 or page 5 online)
Original Source: Nonpopulation Census Schedules for New York, 1850-1880. Microfilm. New York State Library, Documents and Digital Collections, Albany.