July 18, 2013

Traces of Laurel: Census of 1850

By Jan Sparkman

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — To show how much more comprehensive the 1850 census was than those the government had previously taken, let’s compare the household of Abraham Baugh (prominent in Laurel County’s early history) in the 1840 and the 1850 census.

In 1840, Abraham Baugh had eight people living in his household:  Two males under 5 years old; one male between 5 and 10 years old; one male 40 to 50; one female under 5; two females between 10 and 15; and one female 30 to 40.  The Baugh family held no slaves.

The 1850 census of Laurel County lists Abraham Baugh as head of household #374. His nearest neighbors were Charles Gorley and Harrison Reams.  The census taker listed Mrs. Baugh and almost all the couple’s nine children by their initials.  I wondered about this since the same census taker usually listed a whole community and I found no other family in the immediate vicinity of the Baughs listed that way.  Was this how the Baughs referred to their children or were their names so long that they took up too much space on the form?  Such inconsistencies are what make the census reports so fascinating to me. 

Abraham Baugh and his wife, Amanda Pearl Baugh, were born in Kentucky, as were their nine children:  A.E., a female, 24; John W., a male, 20; Martha, a female, 16; S.C., a female, 13; J. F., a male, 11; M.S., a female, 9; M.E., a female, 7; J.R., a male, 5, and Helen, a female, 3.  Two slaves are also listed in 1850:  a 38-year-old male and a 15-year-old female whose names are not recorded. 

M.E. Baugh (the 7-year-old listed above) had the middle name of Elizabeth, shortened to Bettie.  From other research, I know that she married John Faris who ran London’s biggest mercantile establishment.  It was Bettie and John who built the house that became known as the Pennington House on Broad Street, recently torn down to make room for a parking lot.  John Faris died early and Bettie never remarried.  She did, however, raise some of her nieces, one of whom married a Pennington and lived there, which led to the house being called the Pennington House. 

I’ve said all this to show the progression of information in our census reports.  By 1910, they pinpoint locations, occupation, military status, education and a number of other things. The 1920 census was the first to ask each head of household if he/she owned a radio.  This was done to show the level of prosperity of the family; before 1920 it would not have been relevant.             Today’s citizens often resist answering the range of questions they are asked by the Census Bureau every 10 years.  It does seem that we are surveyed and surveiled to a nearly unbearable point these days.  I don’t know the answer to this but the census is about recording population and trends that affect all of us, so I guess I’ll keep filling out my census forms.  And I predict the Internet will soon make the census unnecessary since everything any government agency wants to know about us is already easily available to them.

There is one thing the government cannot do with the census information we give them.  By law, at least for now, they are not allowed to release these reports to the public for 70 years after they are taken.  It usually takes another two years to get distributed.  If you are old enough to have been recorded in 1940, however, you are now part of written history.  The 1940 U.S. Census was released in 2010 and became available for research last year. 


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The Laurel County Historical Society is located at 310 W. 3rd St., London, (formerly the Laurel County Health Department).  The library is open on Mondays and Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and on Saturdays from 9 a.m. until 12 noon.  For further information, contact 606-864-0607 during library hours, or 606-224-3767 at other times.  Visit the historical society’s website:  Email the society at or Jan Sparkman at