To learn more about the Claypit cemetery, we needed to learn more about those buried there. In the process of researching this, we turned to census records. Census records are surveys taken every ten years by the federal government. Based on the questions asked that year, we can find a person’s age, gender, color, occupation, and residence. You could also find the names of the person’s spouse, children, parents, and others living in their household. The earliest census was taken in 1790 and as the years pass the censuses become more detailed. From census records we were able to obtain more information on the people buried in the Claypit cemetery.
To easily search for census records we used ancestry.com, which is a subscription required, genealogy database that allows access to census, birth, death, and marriage records. We accessed this database at the Moses Greeley Parker Memorial Library in Dracut. By simply searching a person’s name, Ancestry lists results of records that match the name you have typed. Ancestry has the original documents scanned onto its database, which gives you the option of viewing them right on your computer screen. We then printed the original census records, and transcribed them onto another sheet. From there we were able to make use of what the censuses had said.
I thought that searching the census records would be an easy task, but as we discovered more information, we had more questions, and more censuses to look through. On the censuses, we found many of the people in Claypit were listed on the same page. This was because they all lived in the same general area of Pawtucketville. Census enumerators, who were the ones who actually took the censuses, would record the families in one area at a time.
From 1790 until 1840, only the head of the household, who was usually the eldest male, was recorded on the census. Anyone else living in the household would be tallied in the age and gender category that they fell under. For instance, we knew that Asa Carkin and Mary Carkin had twelve children, all about two years apart in age, beginning in 1801. This would explain why on the 1830 census, there were ten free white people listed under Asa. This includes him and his wife, so the other eight people would be their children. From this we can assume that the other six children not listed under Asa, must have moved, married, or passed away.
Although males were usually the only names listed on the early censuses, because they were the head of household, we did find an exception, Rhoda Brown. She is listed on the 1820 census as the head of household. Listed in her household that year, was a male between the ages of sixteen and twenty-six. This could be a son from a previous marriage. We know the Rhoda Brown married Moses B. Coburn Jr. on May 18, 1828 when she was 73 years old and Moses was 25. This was most likely her second marriage.
The 1850 census was much more detailed than the previous 1840 census. For example, compare the blank form for the 1840 census versus the blank form for the 1850 census. We had already known most of the information that was listed on it, but this census also asked for the occupation of all males over fifteen years of age. We found that Nathaniel B. Coburn was a farmer. This information was not very surprising and we already assumed this was his profession because Dracut was an agricultural community in the 1800’s. We also discovered from this census that Asa Carkin was a wood dealer, as well as his youngest son Abel. The 1850 census also listed that the Carkins had Charles Cambridge living with them. Cambridge was sixty-six and had no occupation listed. It is unclear how Cambridge was related to the Carkin family. It is possible he was just a boarder.
We were very surprised when we found that on some of the censuses it was recorded that some of the people buried in Claypit had free colored people living in their homes. The 1820 census listed a free colored female under Moses B. Coburn (see also the blank form for the 1820 census). On the same page that he was listed on there were many other households that had free colored people. There were four families that were each recorded as housing four colored people. African American’s were also listed as heads of households, like Barzillai, Zimri, and Zadock Lew. This information tells us that there were many African Americans living in the Pawtucketville area. Blacks and whites lived as neighbors in this community while slavery still existed in the South.
We discovered a lot of new information from the censuses. The records also substantiated some things we had assumed before. So far we have searched through many censuses and will probably end up searching through many more. This primary source is usually very reliable and can be very helpful if you know how to access and understand them. Census records allowed us to piece together the lives of these people.