In the Census


The hunt to trace my paternal grandfather’s roots led me to  Those wiggling leaves can be so exciting and initially yield bountiful relatives.  It’s the dead twigs that make me search and search again for my progenitors.

Currently census records are available from 1790-1940.  Discoveries of ancestors can be made in the US Census. Family histories can also be validated in the US Census.  Every 72 years on Census Day, The National Archives will release census records.  I hope the internet is ready for April, 2022, when the 1950 census is released.

Prior to 1850, the US Census listed only the head of a family. Other family members are merely a number or hash mark, lumped into age/sex groups.  One can surmise that their relative was included in a family.  The 1850 US Census is refreshing.  It was the first census to list all family members by name, giving validation to family ties.

I started building my tree with the knowledge of my 2nd great-grandfather, Richard Wade Carter (1859-1932).  Ancestry quickly took me to my 3rd great grandfather, William Wade Carter.  Records pop up showing William Wade’s marriage to Martha Arrington in 1847.  The 1850 US Census shows Martha and William Wade having one child Eliza. The 1860 US Census reports 4 children including my great grandfather, Richard Wade.

Being that William Wade and Martha were married in 1847, that takes them both out of their family’s 1850 census.  Aaargh!! I don’t know who their parents are!  When I hit a “dead twig”, I look at public Ancestry trees.  Not to copy them but to hopefully get a new direction.  Public trees were no help with William Wade or for that matter Martha.   The US Census didn’t hold an obvious answer for me as to where they came from.

Names can also make things challenging.  In the same time period in Halifax County, NC, there were two other Carters with similar given names, one also married a Martha.  Those family lines had to be researched and weeded out.

The dead twig came to life in the Halifax County, NC Register of Deeds office.  My fellow genealogist, Susan, and I went on a record hunting mission.  Anything Carter related was the goal. This was my first trip to a deed book room.  It was a very large square room.  Bright walls, ceiling and floor.  The walls were lined with file cabinets and shelves holding volumes and volumes of deed books. There were document tables and more file cabinets in the center of the room.   The books dated back to the early 1800’s. Pulling the deed books off the shelf I felt like I should be wearing my Hermione robe with wand in hand.  The books were large and heavy and I was astonished to be able to actually touch the pages.  Susan and I searched through the index books, jotting down volume and page numbers that referenced the surname Carter.

Volume and page numbers in hand we began pulling books off the shelves.  Many of the deeds were land transactions.  The names had no particular meaning to me as I really didn’t know who I was looking for other than William Wade.  I ran across an entry for Hartwell Carter. This was not a name I had run across in any type of Carter search so far.  Low and behold Hartwell Carter in 1826, writes an almost love letter to his wife, Jane Sayers Carter, and two sons, William Wade and Richard Henry, deeding them slaves by the names of Alfred and Berry.

Hartwell Carter deed 1826


I will admit that moment in the deeds office was one of naivety for me.  Everything we were seeing dealt with land deeds or farming equipment/livestock or inanimate objects.  To stumble upon this, human beings with names were actually deeded. I am fully aware of slavery and that slaves were considered property, but I was perplexed.  I spoke to the clerk at the front and she looked at me as if I had two heads. I do not remember her exact reply but she got her point across to me that at that time slaves were treated the same as a land transaction.  It didn’t dawn on me that the cruelties of slavery would be so formal.

Other than the reality of slave owning relatives, this find was very productive. I was able to take this information and run with it.  I found Hartwell and Jane’s marriage information.  They married in 1822.  Luckily Hartwell was a unique name.  The 1830 census shows Hartwell Carter in Halifax County, NC to have 3 sons and 1 daughter.  It appears that one of the sons listed as under age 5 in the 1830 census must have died.  He wasn’t accounted for in the 1840 census. The 1840 census shows Hartwell having 2 sons and 3 daughters.

By the 1850 census William Wade was married and out of the house and it appears Hartwell has died . Richard Henry is listed as head of household and his mother Jane and sisters as family members.

Other factors can contribute to validating the family other that what’s in the census. Hartwell named his sons William Wade and Richard Henry.  William Wade named his sons William Henry and Richard Wade, hardly coincidental I think.  Tracing the families of Hartwell’s daughters, I am able to find common matches through Ancestry DNA.

John is the name I keep stumbling upon as possibly Hartwell’s father…..sigh….there are many Carters with that name in the census. Tracing down the paths of different John Carters I go!



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