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1900 Portage County Census (photos from the Portage County Historical Society Web Exhibit)

Introduction to the 1850 U.S. Census
Portage County, Wisconsin

Portage County, from an 1895 Rand McNally Atlas (click here for a larger view of the area (288KB)

Portage County, from an 1895 Rand McNally Atlas
 Click here or on the map for a larger view of the area (288KB)

Click Here to Search the Central WI Genealogy Index
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The 1850 census, begun on the first of June, 1850 (the date of record), was taken by Assistant Marshal Thomas H. McDill, a resident of the town of Plover, then comprising most of the southern part of the county. McDill was responsible for visiting each of the approximately 204 households (many of which were hotels or boarding houses) in Portage County, to determine each of the following, as of the date of record:

  1. The name of every person whose usual place of abode on the first day of June, 1850, was in this family
  2. Description: age, sex, color (white, black, mulatto)
  3. Profession, Occupation, or Trade of each male person over 15 years of age
  4. Value of Real Estate Owned
  5. Place of Birth, Naming the State, Territory, or Country
  6. Whether person was married within the year
  7. Whether person attended school within the year
  8. Persons over 20 years of age who cannot read and write
  9. Whether deaf and dumb, blind, insane, idiotic, pauper, or convict

Nationally, the enumerators went door to door, counting and compiling data on the 23 million inhabitants of the 31 states, not including Native Americans not taxed, nor slaves, who were counted separately. There was a special schedule for the enumeration of slaves, but as Wisconsin was a free state, no slave schedules exist. The enumerators were existing Federal employees; civilian enumerators were not hired until the 1880 census. They had orders to complete their work within five months.

This was the first Federal census to list the names of every inhabitant, and not merely heads of household as had previously been the case. Property owners were asked the value of their real estate, but these figures are at best only approximate. Indeed, it has been suggested that fear of increased taxes may have motivated some to undervalue their property.

Although Wisconsin became a state in 1848, county boundaries in 1850 were rather different from what they are at present. In particular, Range 10, the eastern tier of townships now in Portage County (Alban, New Hope, Amherst, Lanark, and Belmont) was part of Brown County, and, on the western side, the town of Grand Rapids, now in Wood County, was then in Portage County. Persons researching the Range 10 townships in 1850 should therefore see the census for Brown County. These townships were given to Portage County in February, 1851, and the town of Grand Rapids was ceded to Wood County when that county was formed in March, 1856. Thereafter the boundaries of Portage County have been as they are today.

The county at that time consisted of but three townships: Grand Rapids, Plover, and Stevens Point. The town of Stevens Point (not to be confused with the city of that name, which was not incorporated until 1858) comprised most of the northern part of the county, and the town of Plover the southern part. The official population was 1250, a good share of them constituting a “floating” population involved with the lumbering and sawmill industry.

This index groups families together, alphabetized by surname, for ease of identification. Exceptions to the family grouping occur when family members have a different surname (married daughters living at home, stepchildren, mothers-in-law, etc.); these are indexed separately. Each entry gives, in the right-hand column, the page number of the census schedule where the name can be found. On the microfilm, look for the printed page number in the upper right-hand corner of each right-hand or “A” page. The “B” page, with the same number, immediately follows.

In producing this index, considerable care and effort has gone into deciphering the penmanship, which is generally good, but as with all records of this type, large allowance should be made for variant spellings and misspellings. In some cases it is possible only to make a reasonable guess as to the enumerator’s intent. Watch out for the “long s”, a letter which in 1850 was still in common use: in cursive script, “ss”, with a long s in the first position, can look like “p.”

The 1850 Census

Unit Census Pages Population
Town of Grand Rapids 5B – 9B 341
Town of Plover 2A – 5A, 10A – 11B 451
Town of Stevens Point 12A – 17A 458
Total Population 1,250

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This page last modified: Monday, January 30, 2012