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

Introduction to the Twelfth (1900) 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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1850 | 1860 | 1870 | 1880 | 1900

It was 1900; William McKinley was president, Edward Scofield was governor of Wisconsin, and Patrick H. Cashin was mayor of Stevens Point, a city of 9,524 inhabitants. North Division Street ended in a swamp before it reached Fourth Avenue, and what is now Goerke Park was the fairgrounds, out in the country. The country was still talking about its recent war with Spain, and Congress has just gotten around to directing that a twelfth census be taken of the United States.

In 1900, a permanent Bureau of the Census did not yet exist. Instead, every ten years Congress simply passed its customary decennial Census Act establishing a census office and ordaining in general what it was to accomplish. Those appointed to the office then set about hiring staff and an army of enumerators and supervisors, usually untrained if not unsuited for the job, who proceeded to gather and tabulate the census data, and then the entire office disbanded.

Experience with the 1880 census had shown, however, that tabulating census data was fast becoming a full-time job. It had taken nine years to complete work on the 1880 census, and it was even feared that tabulating the 1890 census (now lost) would not be finished by the time the 1900 census was to be taken. (It was, in fact, completed in seven years, owing largely to the use of rudimentary tabulating machines which had been invented expressly for the purpose.) Gains in efficiency were offset by demands from Congress for more enumeration detail, and by the massive immigration which had swollen the 1900 population to half again its 1880 size.

Enumerators were trained, and given volumes of material to read, but their job was hard. Traveling by horse and buggy on dirt roads, they encountered foreign languages, uncooperative residents, and others who simply did not know what the census was all about. The newspapers had given much advance publicity to the census, listing the questions that would be asked, and reminding the public that compliance was mandatory, but this was a time when one person in ten was foreign-born, and one in nine was illiterate.

The enumerators themselves were a mixed lot. For the first time in 1900, enumerators received their appointment only after passing a written exam, which they could take at home. The exam consisted of a narrative description of a hypothetical family, and a blank form identical to the population schedule that would be used to record the census. The would-be enumerator was to fill out the schedule from the given data and return it to the district supervisor. Of the 300,000 persons who submitted applications, one out of six failed this test. Of the remaining group, 53,173 were chosen as enumerators. They had the entire month of June to finish their task, but June 1 was the official date of record. Babies born after that date were not to be counted; on the other hand, anyone alive on the first of June was to be counted, even if they had died by the time the census taker came to call.

Page  98B, Town of Grant,  family names Gussel, Joecks, Kausora, Miller, Panter, Timm, and Turban from the Twelfth (1900) U.S. Census of Portage County

All of the enumerators had learned penmanship in school, but they were more or less successful at it. Spelling of names became a challenge, especially when the enumerator and his subject were of different ethnic extractions, and did not speak each other’s language. Consequently, many of the names you will find in the census schedules, and in this index, are horribly misspelled. Known errors have been corrected, but the reader is urged to try every possible variant spelling of a name, and every possible misspelling (and perhaps some impossible ones as well) before concluding that the person being sought is not in the census.

Click here or on the image for a larger sample of the actual document (605KB).

Page 98B, Town of Grant, family names Gussel, Joecks, Kausora, Miller, Panter, Timm, and Turban from the Twelfth (1900) U.S. Census of Portage County

Families are indexed as a group, for ease of identification, and alphabetized by surname. 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. Every person enumerated in 1900 is in the index somewhere; the only exceptions are twelve Felician sisters of the Polonia orphanage who were counted but not listed by name. 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 number in the upper right-hand corner. A few persons were erroneously counted twice, but there is no evidence of the “padding” of which some earlier enumerators had been accused.

The census schedules give the location (including street address and house number if in the city); name; relationship to the head of household; race; sex; date of birth (month and year); age; marital status; if married, how many years; for mothers, mother of how many children; nativity (place of birth, father’s place of birth, mother’s place of birth); if foreign born, year of immigration, number of years in the US, and naturalization status; occupation, trade, or profession for each person 10 years of age and over; education (attended school, can read, can write, can speak English); ownership of home.

Some of the names on the films are exceedingly difficult to read. Poor penmanship plus an attitude of “spell it like it sounds” combine to make a hard puzzle for the genealogist to solve. Add to this the habit of the auditors in the census office of writing their notations directly over the names, and the result may be a combination impossible to decipher. At their best, enumerators wrote in an elegant hand, but at their worst, one wishes they had foregone the flourishes and printed in simple block letters. Considerable effort has gone into resolving these difficulties for the production of this index, but unfortunately many necessarily remain.

Enumerators of the 1900 Census
Unit Census Pages Population Enumerator
Town of Alban 1A – 9B 878  Lewie Halverson
Town of Almond 10A – 20B 1,080 Wayne F. Cowan
Town of Amherst 21A – 31B, 38A – 41B 1,425 Clifford F. Smith, Thomas C. E. Sand
Village of Amherst 32A – 37B 558 Thomas C. E. Sand
Town of Belmont 42A – 49B 781 Peter N. Brandt
Town of Buena Vista  50A – 61B 1,102 Lewis E. Wentworth
Town of Carson 69A – 84B 1,505 Charles H. Dake
Town of Dewey 303A – 310B 754 John McHugh
Town of Eau Pleine 85A – 95B 1,086 Gustave Borth
Town of Grant 96A – 101B 557 John W. Bovee
Town of Hull 108A – 122B 1,469 Myron E. Van Order
Town of Lanark 123A – 131B 825 Thomas Swan
Town of Linwood 62A – 68B 677 Charles H. Dake
Town of New Hope 132A – 141B 962  John A. Hole
Town of Pine Grove 102A – 107B 565 John W. Bovee
Town & Village of Plover 142A – 158B 1,611 Silas D. Clark, Burton S. Fox
 Town of Sharon 159A – 181B 2,225 August Oesterle, Henry Schliesman
First Ward, Stevens Point 182A – 196B 1,448 Henry J. Halverson
Second Ward, Stevens Point 197A – 213B 1,699 Warren L. Bronson
Third Ward, Stevens Point  223A – 241B 1,600 John W. Strope
Fourth Ward, Stevens Point 242A – 265B 2,313 John H. Wallace
 Fifth Ward, Stevens Point  266A – 282B 1,623 Daniel J. Leahy
Sixth Ward, Stevens Point 214A – 222B 841 Warren L. Bronson
Town of Stockton 283A – 302B 1,899 William L. Arnott, Grace M. Arnott
Total Population 29,483

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This page last modified: Monday, January 30, 2012