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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

43,438 schedules digitized (18.7% of total)

215 denominations

3,112 counties

Schedules per denomination (top 25)

DenominationSchedule count
Southern Baptist Convention14,904
Protestant Episcopal Church6,922
Northern Baptist Convention6,076
Negro Baptists A4,415
Seventh-day Adventist Denomination1,980
Presbyterian Church in the United States of America1,203
Evangelical Synod of North America914
Church of God in Christ730
Assemblies of God, General Council668
Wesleyan Methodist Connection (or Church) of America619
Advent Christian Church443
Churches of God in North America (General Eldership)431
Christian and Missionary Alliance330
Evangelical Church326
Plymouth Brethren II303
Disciples of Christ203
Russian Orthodox Church199
The Brethren Church (Progressive Dunkers)174
Plymouth Brethren I165
Greek Orthodox Church (Hellenic)153
Church of the Living God, Christian Workers for Fellowship149
Christadelphians133
Religious Society of Friends (Hicksite)128
Pentecostal Assemblies of the World126
Church of God in Christ Jesus (Adventist)87

Schedules per county (top 25)

CountySchedule count
Cook, Illinois332
Los Angeles, California307
Wayne, Michigan213
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania191
New York, New York189
Erie, New York175
Essex, New Jersey173
Middlesex, Massachusetts168
District Of Columbia168
Jefferson, Alabama168
Kings, New York164
Allegheny, Pennsylvania158
Jefferson, Arkansas146
Providence, Rhode Island128
Baltimore City, Maryland126
Westchester, New York123
Suffolk, Massachusetts117
Cuyahoga, Ohio117
Worcester, Massachusetts116
Leflore, Mississippi111
Monroe, New York110
Spartanburg, South Carolina107
Greenville, South Carolina104
New Haven, Connecticut102
Fairfield, Connecticut99