Fentress County Tennessee 1850 Federal Census

Researchers: please be aware that this database is very likely full of mistaken interpretations of 150-year-old handwriting. A discussion of specific problems is given after the explanation of format and the index below. Another stumbling block in using this data is the odd spellings that occur frequently throughout. This enumerator has made wide use of abbreviations as well as spelling oddities. We have tried to maintain the integrity of the original census as far as possible, including retaining the unusual spellings.

This work is intended as a launching pad for searching an actual microfilmed copy of the original census pages. It is not to be considered as a correct, primary source document. Please feel free to let us know of any errors we should correct. Now a word about the use of these electronic pages:

Many, MANY long laborious hours have been spent transcribing this data from microfilm. If the message below doesn't deter fellow web surfers from stealing my work, then consider Velma's Genealogical Curse, which follows this fair use and copyright message:

The transcriptions of Federal Census Data listed on this website may be used freely for personal non-commercial research. This message must remain on all copied material. None of these electronic pages may be reproduced in any format or presented by any other organization, person, or persons. Individuals or organizations desiring to use this material for profit or any form of presentation, must obtain my written consent. © 1999 Velma Tinch

Velma's Genealogical Curse:

If you steal and/or profit from my work (or the work of any other diligent slave who labors day and night transcribing public records to provide you with easy, free, armchair genealogy)...

May all your ancestral listings be written in illegible handwriting with disappearing ink!
May you find nothing but burned counties as you track your illusive kin.
And upon your death, may your disinterested heirs deposit your life's work in the nearest dumpster!

Explanation of format

The data from this federal census is provided in two formats.

One set of pages sorts the names alphabetically by surname.

The other set of pages lists the persons and families in the order in which they were enumerated on the original census. Those pages are divided by dwelling number.

Most researchers will find it easier to consult the alphabetical list first. This will provide the dwelling and line numbers. With that information in hand, the researcher may then easily find the desired individual within the context of the original census pages.

Twenty-four surnames on this census were completely unreadable. Five of these seem to begin with the letter "A." Ten names end with the letters "_____house." Another five have possibly readable given names. Four names were absolutely unreadable, but the other data (ages, birthplaces, etc.) were partially readable. All of these problem names appear as "(?)" entries...the first 24 on the alphabetical list (A thru E). If you can't find your people and you know they should be here, these entries may offer some clues.

Notes regarding difficulty in deciphering the enumerators' handwriting

Most recent corrections: 22 July 1999

Alphabetical by Surname

Alphabetical: A-E

Alphabetical: F-L

Alphabetical: M-R

Alphabetical: S-Z

Original Context by Dwelling Number

Dwellings: 1-175

Dwellings: 176-350

Dwellings: 351-530

Dwellings: 531-707

Deciphering the handwriting:

Researchers are advised to note the letters with which we had most difficulty. If you can't find your ancestor listed with the proper initial letter, try some of the others that closely resemble the correct letter. Confusing initial letters combined with a couple of indistinguishable lowercase letters can completely change the way a name might be deciphered.

Upper case "S & L," "T & F," "D & O," and "J & P" were extremely difficult to distinguish.

Lower case "j & z," "h & k," "t & l," and "a & o" presented numerous problems.

Problem numbers included indistinguishable "0 & 6," "7 & 9," and sometimes "1 & 7"; also the number "5" usually did not have a top.

Other problems in transcription:

After you have found your people in this index, by all means consult the original microfilm to verify your findings. If all microfilmed copies of this census were taken from the same original film, there is a particular problem you should note:

In some places, the film itself suffered from bad photography. A few pages were completely unreadable. Don't give up on the film if you find your ancestors listed in households 524 through 541. Those pages were re-photographed before the end of the film. Keep scanning for those family numbers.

Disappearing ink caused great difficulty. Often, the writing is completely faded.

Over-written words occasionally were impossible to read.

Spelling oddities exist throughout. It appears as if the enumerator used the sound of the letter name, rather than the phonetic sound of the letter as a spelling guide. For instance, "Milly" may be spelled "Mile." The name "Ruth" is consistently spelled "Ruith", while "Alexander" is most often spelled "Elexander".

In many cases, the heads of household of some families will be found listed as the final entries in the preceding households. I can't think of a logical reason for this to happen, but it seemed to occur frequently. I suspect the film was taken from the "second copy" of the census rather than from the "original." The enumerator probably had occasional lapses of concentration as he made laborious copies of seemingly endless names.

Letters are often dropped at the end of a name. An example is "Ja". Did he intend to write the abbreviation, "Jas?" In many cases, we will need to get lucky and find the same people listed on the 1860 census in order to verify many given names.

Very common use of abbreviation throughout makes it impossible to do a fast computer search for a particular given name, such as "James", for example. Most often this name is rendered as "Jas"... however, it did occasionally appear correctly as "James." "Thos, Wm, Geo, Danl, Saml, Robt and Chas" were also used frequently, almost always without a "period" at the end.

A possible problem in interpreting the data of this census may be found in regional accents. This Enumerator (J.D. Hale) is a northerner. According to this census, he was born in New Hampshire. The vast majority of people listed on the census are from southern states. To Yankee ears, the names may vary greatly from the southern tongues that pronounced them.

Many mistakes in reporting seem obvious, such as listing the wrong gender for a person who has a given name of the opposite gender. Only you as a researcher with more certain knowledge of your family names can sort out the occasional "boy named Sue"!


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since 22 July 1999

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