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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

131,879 schedules digitized (56.8% of total)

217 denominations

3,112 counties

Schedules per denomination (top 25)

DenominationSchedule count
Methodist Episcopal Church26,055
Southern Baptist Convention22,517
Negro Baptists A17,112
Northern Baptist Convention7,676
Protestant Episcopal Church7,209
Churches of Christ4,373
Methodist Episcopal Church, South3,956
Evangelical Lutheran Synodical Conference of America: Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio, and Other States2,963
Primitive Baptists2,696
Evangelical Church2,665
Norwegian Lutheran Church of America2,547
Disciples of Christ2,152
Seventh-day Adventist Denomination1,980
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
Christian Church (General Convention of the Christian Church)1,044
Negro Baptists B1,036
Church of the Brethren (Conservative Dunkers)1,030
Free Will Baptists1,025
Colored Primitive Baptists922
Evangelical Synod of North America914
Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America872

Schedules per county (top 25)

CountySchedule count
Cook, Illinois1,118
Los Angeles, California670
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania543
Jefferson, Alabama537
Allegheny, Pennsylvania490
Wayne, Michigan424
Erie, New York335
New York, New York332
Kings, New York310
Cuyahoga, Ohio306
Baltimore City, Maryland293
Marion, Indiana268
Essex, New Jersey267
Shelby, Tennessee261
Middlesex, Massachusetts260
Hamilton, Ohio249
Pulaski, Arkansas245
Harris, Texas228
District Of Columbia221
Lancaster, Pennsylvania220
Westchester, New York214
Walker, Alabama203
Tuscaloosa, Alabama203
Hennepin, Minnesota202
Franklin, Ohio195