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The Census Bureau and American Congregations

In the nineteenth century, the U.S. government collected data about churches as part of its decennial population census, but when Congress created the Census Bureau as a permanent agency in 1902, it authorized it to undertake a separate decennial survey of “religious bodies.” Every ten years from 1906 to 1946, the U.S. Census Bureau surveyed congregations, synagogues, and other religious groups in the United States.

While the Census Bureau published summary reports from that data, the forms (or schedules) filled out by each congregation have not been widely used. Only the schedules from the 1926 Census survive, housed in a collection at the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, DC.

These schedules are a rich source of information about American religious institutions in the early twentieth century. They contain a wealth of information about each congregation, including its membership by age and sex, its expenditures on buildings and missions, its minister’s name and whether he or she had gone to seminary, and its denominational affiliation, which the Census Bureau cataloged into 213 different groups. The schedules also include the location of the congregations, usually by county and city or town, and in many cases the street address as well.

Totals

126,759 schedules digitized (54.6% of total)

217 denominations

3,112 counties

Schedules per denomination (top 25)

DenominationSchedule count
Methodist Episcopal Church26,055
Southern Baptist Convention22,499
Negro Baptists A16,636
Northern Baptist Convention7,665
Protestant Episcopal Church7,209
Evangelical Lutheran Synodical Conference of America: Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio, and Other States2,963
Methodist Episcopal Church, South2,813
Evangelical Church2,665
Norwegian Lutheran Church of America2,547
Disciples of Christ2,152
Christian Church (General Convention of the Christian Church)2,088
Seventh-day Adventist Denomination1,980
Primitive Baptists1,926
Churches of Christ1,890
Methodist Protestant Church1,446
Evangelical Lutheran Synodical Conference of America: Evangelical Lutheran Joint Synod of Wisconsin and Other States1,309
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints1,230
Presbyterian Church in the United States of America1,203
Evangelical Lutheran Augustana Synod of North America1,179
Free Will Baptists1,025
Negro Baptists B950
Colored Primitive Baptists922
Evangelical Synod of North America914
Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America872
Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Iowa and Other States871

Schedules per county (top 25)

CountySchedule count
Cook, Illinois1,114
Los Angeles, California625
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania537
Jefferson, Alabama531
Allegheny, Pennsylvania489
Wayne, Michigan422
Erie, New York335
New York, New York333
Kings, New York310
Cuyahoga, Ohio304
Baltimore City, Maryland293
Essex, New Jersey270
Marion, Indiana263
Middlesex, Massachusetts260
Shelby, Tennessee260
Hamilton, Ohio246
District Of Columbia220
Westchester, New York217
Harris, Texas216
Pulaski, Arkansas207
Lancaster, Pennsylvania204
Hennepin, Minnesota201
Tuscaloosa, Alabama200
Walker, Alabama198
Franklin, Ohio194