Several months ago I was introduced to the Historical Census Browser while reading the May/June issue of Family Tree Magazine. Provided by the University of Virginia, this is a source of all sorts of information gleaned from census records from 1790 through 1960. What you find runs the gamut from total population to ethnicity, agriculture, literacy and manufacturing. Results can be narrowed down to the state and the county level.
To give you an idea of what you can learn at this site I played around with it to obtain some statistics for Kalamazoo county.
Year Total # of Farms Cash Value of Farm Improved Farm Land (acres) Value Farm Machin.
1850 1,098 $2,056,860 73,200 $141,614
1860 2,159 $8,137,368 153,923 $265,160
1870 2,938 $17,255,839 204,689 $665,800
1880 3,226 not included 263,249 $612,640
I thought it was interesting to see the number of farms in the county double from 1850 to 1860. This makes sense as the total population in the county also nearly doubled during this time (see below). Actually, the number of farms increased at about the same rate as the population from 1850 through 1880 with an average of 1 farm per eleven persons during the entire period. In 1880 the average size of a farm in Kalamazoo county was 106 acres. The estimated value of all farm products produced in the county in 1879 was a staggering $3,392,037.
I also looked at the ethnic composition of Kalamazoo county.
Year Tot. Pop. Foreign born Born Ireland Born Germany Born Netherlands
1850 13,179 1,025 N/A N/A N/A
1860 24,626 3,374 N/A N/A N/A
1870 32,054 4,648 927 663 993
1880 34,342 4,910 812 817 1,301
1890 39,273 6,629 723 1,059 2,742
1900 44,310 6,536 553 962 3,123
To round out the major places of foreign birth in 1870 here are the numbers: British America, 859; England & Wales, 893; Scotland, 168; Sweden & Norway, 9; Switzerland, 34. There were no people included who listed their place of birth as Africa, Austria, Belgium, China, Denmark, Italy, Poland, Russia or Spain. I'm not sure of the birthplace of the remaining 102 foreign-born people. “Colored” persons made up only a tiny fraction of the population in 1870, numbering only 525 (1.6%).
Literacy was quite high among those in Kalamazoo county in 1870. Among whites over age 21, only 313 could not read (0.1% of the white population) and among colored persons over age 21, only 33 could not read (6% of the colored population).
These statistics just scratch the surface of what you can discover at this very informative site. To see what more you can find go to their website.