Mortality schedules provided the federal government with another means of collecting specific vital statistical information. The federal censuses of 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1885, 1890 and 1900 included questions about persons who had died in the household during the twelve months immediately preceding the census. (The 1890 and 1900 mortality schedules have, unfortunately, been destroyed.) Census day was declared to be June 1st of 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, and 1885. Therefore, the enumerator (census taker) was to ask questions about people who had died between June 1st of the previous year and May 31st of the current year.
Special schedules (forms) were used to collect the mortality information. The enumerator asked for the following information:
- Name of the deceased
- Month of death
- Occupation or trade
- Disease or cause of death
- Number of days ill
The parents' birthplaces were added to the list of questions in 1870. In 1880, two more questions were added:
- Place where the disease was contracted
- Number of years the deceased had been a resident of the area
How Can a Mortality Schedule Be Used?
Mortality schedules were taken for all states at the time of each of these censuses. These records were considered less important than the population census records, and some estimates indicate that deaths were underreported by 20-40%. Some records are missing and others that exist are incomplete. Nevertheless, the records that do exist are important because, in most cases, they predate the keeping of death records in many of the states.
Mortality records are useful in documenting death dates of family members not recorded or publicized elsewhere. If you have a family member who appears in one decennial census and you can't find him/her in the next, checking the mortality schedule of the state in that second census gives you a one-in-ten chance of finding a death date. Once found, that can be the pointer you need to locate obituaries, mortuary records, church death records, cemeteries, probate records, and land transfer records. Additionally, the cause of death shown on a mortality schedule may provide genetic diseases.
Not only can the information in these records help determine the location of the family member at the time of his/her death, it can supplement the population census schedule by providing birth information of the individual and, in 1870 and later, his/her parents