buttonblgrey_fdllogo.jpg (3089 bytes) THE 1850 FEDERAL CENSUS:
Fond du Lac County, Wisconsin
Back to Alto

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p164 p165 p166
p167 p168 p169
p170 p171 p172
p173 p174 p175
p176 p177 p178

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The 1850 Alto census was conducted between September 19 and September 26 by George Williams. He began his enumeration in the southeastern corner of the township and worked his way west and then north along the county lines. He then traveled east along current Liner Road, separating Alto Township from Metomen. Reaching section 1, Williams traveled southwest to section 15 and then completed the interior sections to the north. From section 8, he skipped back to section 22, traveling south and then east to section 25. Williams finished the final two days of his census by traveling north along the Alto-Waupuin township line until he returned to section 1 and moved on to the town of Metomen.

The federal census of 1850 identified each individual in the township regardless of age, gender, or "color." In addition to name, the census recorded dwelling and family numbers (assigned in the order the census taker entered them), age, gender, "color," occupation, value of real estate (usually credited to head of household only), place of birth, marriage (if it occurred during the year), school attendance during the year, inability to read and write, and "whether deaf and dumb, blind, insane, idiotic, pauper, or convict" (identified as "other" here).

Population Summary
By 1850, only three years after it was organized, Alto was already heavily settled. The largest contingent in the township--representing 35 percent of the town's population of 613, exclusive of the 51 children born in Wisconsin--were born in New York. Immigrants from Holland, the Dutch, were the next largest group, comprising 25% (138) of the total. Scots ranked third with 7%. Canadians and English each accounted for 2%. The average age was 22.5, and the oldest resident was Susanna Baily, a New Hampshire native living with the Samuel Carpenters. A total of 115 children had attended school within the previous 12 months.

An introduction to the early Dutch families in the township is available in Twilah DeBoer's "Dutch Settlers in Alto, Wisconsin."

Occupationally, the township listed 156 farmers, 27 laborers, 2 carpenters, 1 chair maker, 1 shoe maker, 1 tailor, 1 tavern keeper, and 1 teamster.

Reliability of the Records
As is the case with most of the early censuses, George Williams' exhibits numerous errors. Between pages 167 and 168, for example, his dwelling numbers skip from 1250 back to 1231. The corresponding family numbers skip from 1269 to 1250. On page 175, Mary Skars, the 13-year-old daughter of Frederick and Catharine Skars, is identified as a farmer by occupation. On the same page, John Stracks, age 3, is listed as the principal resident of a household otherwise occupied by the Henry Shoemaker family. Williams also occasionally struggled with the Dutch names in the census, spelling the Meenk family name phonetically as "Mink," for example.

Rather than trying to interpret and correct the records, however, the general approach here has been to present the census records with as much fidelity to Williams' original entries as possible. There are two reasons. First, an attempt to correct errors risks the introduction of additional ones. Second, and more important, the census itself is an historic document that, errors and all, can tell us something about the process of census taking and the census taker. In presenting the document as written, the original sequence of entries has also been retained, because it offers clues about where families were living. Comparison with the federal land patent records and the 1862 county plat map can identify the general location of many of the homesteads, and those that do not appear in the land records can often be placed in relation to others by virtue of census sequence. For an illustration, see the Fairwater 1853 article.

It should also be noted that the original handwritten records frequently are difficult to read. Those names for which there is a significant level of uncertainty are marked with a (?) marker, and where portions of the handwriting are unreadable missing letters have been marked with an "_."

Last updated 5/8/1999 If you have information to share about the census, please contact Bob Schuster at rmschust@facstaff.wisc.edu or at 6020 Kristi Circle, Monona, WI 53716.