Monday, February 10, 2014

U.S. Census Series: Ward 12, Scranton, Pennsylvania 1870

About 2.5 billion people were enumerated in the 16 censuses that were conducted in the United States from 1790 to 1940.[1]  One question that has been consistently asked in various formats since 1850 is where people were born. The country (usually as it exited at the time the question was asked) of birth is recorded for those born outside the U.S.

However, over the centuries there were census enumerators that went above and beyond what they were asked to do when recording where people were born. For Irish immigrants, this has resulted in their county and sometimes town or place of birth being recorded. Over the coming months I will highlight such examples.

It is important to point out that these examples are a tiny percentage of all the millions of people who were recorded in the federal census as born in Ireland. Nevertheless, any record that points to a county of origin for an Irish immigrant is to be welcomed due to how hard it can be to find that information.

Census return for Ward 12, Scranton, PA showing Irish county of birth

To start off,  one of the biggest concentrations is found in the 1870 returns from Ward 12, Scranton, Luzerne county, Pennsylvania. For these records we can be thankful to the census official William Carling. In Ward 12 he enumerated 110 pages of names. For about the first 65 pages he records the county of birth for the majority of Irish immigrants that he enumerates. There is a heavy Mayo concentration throughout these pages, followed by examples from Sligo and Cork. Many other counties such as Meath, Down, and Limerick are also listed.

To see all these examples, which total in the hundreds, you can start here on page 1 of the returns from Ward 12 and browse through them by using the image number arrow.

[1] This is not 2.5 billion different people as one person can be counted in multiple censuses. My own numbers based on a manual tabulation of census totals found at


  1. Another good example of this is the entire first ward of the city of Boston for 1860, enumerated by William B. Tarleton. There are over 400 pages here, with many Irish counties given as places of birth, as well as many US cities. I stumbled across a neighborhood of County Cork natives while researching for a client, and now I use a page from this census as an example of "chain migration" in one of my workshops. Wish there were more!

  2. Lisa,

    Thanks for your comment. You are right, that is a very valuable example. I wrote about it in my column in this months edition of Irish Lives Remembered (Massachusetts research), the free genealogy magazine.

    I will be highlighting many more such examples over the coming months.



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