July 5, 2013

Traces of Laurel: Census of 1830

By Jan Sparkman

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — Historians and genealogists know that the United States census reports are invaluable to good research.  Certainly mistakes were made by careless or inefficient census takers but, on the whole, the census is the most accurate record we have for basic information about our ancestors in America.

The first U.S. census was taken in 1790 and has been repeated every 10 years since then.  Unfortunately, most of the 1890 census was destroyed in a fire in 1921 but all the other census reports are intact, as far as I know.  The first six censuses (1790-1840) contained only the name of the head of household and the range of that person’s age (between 20 and 30, for instance); other members of the family were simply noted by their sex and age range.  This changed with the 1850 census – the most helpful census of all for researchers, in my opinion.  Names and current ages of spouses and children were enumerated, along with the state (and in some cases, the country) in which each family member and his/her parents were born.  This made it easier for the researcher to trace an ancestor’s path to its 1850 location.

The first census in which the residents of the new county of Laurel were registered was the census of 1830.  Lot Pitman and Brannum Hill were charged with completing this first record and when they had finished they posted this notice:  “We hereby certify that the following schedule has been set up, one correct copy at two of the most public places in the division subject to the inspection of all concerned.”  Today, we can look at the censuses online or on microfilm but early Laurel Countians had to travel to one of two specified locations to get access to this first census information.  As to where the inspection sites were, I don’t know, but one must surely have been the newly-built courthouse.  

Only four families lived within the boundaries of the town of London in 1830:  Calvin Cannifax, William Smith, Brannum Hill and Thomas Freeman.  John Jackson is not listed within the city limits but, according to Russell Dyche, his home was “on the Wilderness Road, just north of where the Whitley Road left it.” I cannot pinpoint that spot without further research but I know that Jackson’s land holdings were extensive.  He lists 15 slaves as part of his household in 1830.

At the end of the listing of the1830 census for Laurel County is written:  Total white males, 1,116; total white females, 961; male slaves, 63; female slaves, 63; free colored, 3.  Grand total for the whole county: 2,206; 15 individuals lived in London.

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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