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Austrian Census Returns 1869-1890

Austrian Census Returns 1869-1890 with Emphasis on Galicia

By Johnathan Shea, A.G.

Reprinted from the Journal of the Polish Genealogical Society of the NorthEast", Vol 7, No. 1 (1990) with the full authorization of the copyright owner.

© copyright 1997, Polish Genealogical Society of the Northwest and Jonathan Shea, all rights reserved

At an 1853 conference in Brussels of the International Statistical Congress, attendees debated the introduction of decennial censuses in each of the participating nations, which would be based on identical principles. The uniformity was sought by the statisticians in order to facilitate country-to-country comparisons and date sharing. Identical forms and model instructions were proposed, and it was decided that the censuses should take into account the entire population of each nation.

The uniformity proposed by the conference committees never became a reality, but the issue of conducting censuses was, at the very least, brought to the consciousness of the governments of the participants.

The Hapsburg Monarchy decided to incorporate some of these recommendations in an 1857 census which fell far short of expectations. Only in 1869 did the manner and form of the census begin to comply with the conference recommendations. As such, 1869 is considered to be the year that a new era of census-taking began in the Austro-Hungarian empire. The 1869 census was the first "name" census, where individual names and surnames of inhabitants were recorded.

In the censuses taken in 1869, 1880, 1890, 1900 and 1910 the actual census form contained nearly identical categories and columns for responses. The only distinctions were the graphic layout of the form and minor details in the instructions. The only exception to the uniformity of the returns was that the 1890 census added two questions on housing.

The principal columns included the following:

(1) Sequence number — Each residential unit visited was assigned a sequence number under which all the inhabitants of this unit were listed, including tenants, borders, and those who formed part of the household but were not physically present.

(2) Surname, Name — Full name was required, including any nicknames, titles, etc. The only defect encountered with this category was that surnames were not standardized in the earlier censuses, most notably among the Jewish population.

(3) Sex — A check mark was placed in the appropriate category.

(4) Year of birth — In 1900 this was expanded to year, month and day of birth. This question posed certain problems. Males wishing to evade or shorten military service provided intentionally inaccurate responses. In many cases a birth certificate was asked for by the census taker to confirm data. In certain Jewish communities, this type of documentation was not extant. At any rate, birthdates or years should be viewed with some skepticism.

(5) Place of birth — In many cases a district, rather than the actual village, was required, thus more searching may be needed to discover the actual birthplace.

(6) Affiliation — The name of the district was entered here, i. e., the district to which the individual belonged. The Galician district, as an organ of territorial self-government, was an administrative unit of residents in effect, and each citizen had to be official registered in a district. Potential problems occurred here with Gypsies and other people with no permanent place of residence.

(7) Religion — Adherents of a given religion stated so in this column. Atheists or persons with no formal religious affiliation were free to declare themselves as such.

(8) Family status — Akin to a question on civil status, this column recorded if a person was single, married, widowed, or divorced. Note that the government recognized only religiously sanctioned marriages and divorces were accorded legal status only among non-Catholics.

(9) Language — Many statistical analysts and historians consider this to be the most vaguely presented and imprecise question on the census. Only Austrian citizens were required to answer this question, which distracted from the claim that it was a total and general census.

Eight languages were listed as possibilities here: German, Czech-Slovak-Moravian — obviously considered one language by the census's designers, which in fact is linguistically imprecise — Ukrainian, Polish, Slovenian, Serbo-Croatian, Italian, and Romanian. Yiddish is not listed, a language used by the bulk of the Jewish population. Jews were assigned a language, based on the dominant language in their area of residence.

It is surmised that the intent of this question was to arrive at a statistical analysis of the ethno-cultural grouping of the population in the Empire. However, this question failed to provide the kind of accurate statistics which had been hoped for.
Also not addressed here was the problem of multilingual individuals: if only one language could be recorded, which should it be? This point was the potential cause for much misreporting in this category in places of mixed population, such as Eastern Galicia, where intermarriage of Poles and Ukrainians was not unknown. Therefore, information from this part of the Census should be treated with great caution.

(10) Vocation (employment) — This category was also deemed unsatisfactory by census analysts, who cited sparse and imprecise instructions to the census takers, thus resulting in incorrect or semi-accurate information. Guidelines were not given in great enough detail to classify a given profession.

(11) Type of job — The exact type of vocational activities exercised in a given profession were enumerated here to provide supplemental data to the previous question.

(12) Other income — The sources of any income outside that earned in a respondent's principal means of support were detailed here.

(13) Literacy — The census taker was to check the applicable skill, reading and/or writing, in the space provided. There was no specific place to indicate illiteracy. Therefore if this column is left blank, the researcher is left to speculate whether his ancestor was in fact unable to read or write or if the blank column was due to the carelessness of the enumerator or the latter's inability to determine such information.

(14) Mental and physical defects — This column was deleted in the 1900 census.

(15) Present or absent — This question indicated whether the persons listed in the family unit were actually residing there or not. In the case of absences, the enumerator was to list whether the absence was temporary or permanent. It is said that, if aware of the census date, some individuals absented themselves intentionally for a variety of reasons.

(16) Place of residence of absent persons — Here the census taker was to indicate the name of the district, if it was in the same county; the name of the county, if the person was in Galicia or the name of crownland within Austria-Hungary. For persons living in other nations, the name of the country was provided.

(18) Farm animals.

In 1890 a question regarding the relationship of persons in each unit to the head of household was also introduced. The methods by which the census was to be taken were set forth in a decree of March 29, 1869, and supplementary information was issued in subsequent years by the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

In Galicia, high-ranking local officials gave additional instructions prior to each census. First stage preparations were done by the _starosta,_ which included verifying that all the geographical place names in his district were accurate, preparing all necessary documents — including the birth records of men of draftable age — and choosing the paid enumerators.

The latter were usually priests, teachers, and retirees with a high enough level of education to perform the task as required. As can be expected, politicians employed nepotism, favoritism, etc., and endeavored to promote self-serving interests by selecting individuals who they felt would be subservient to their future goals. (Sound familiar?)

This selection process in the later census years had distinct ethnic overtones, especially in areas of mixed population. For example, if the local census commissioner happened to be Ukrainian, he would endeavor to see that as many of the enumerators as possible were Ukrainians as well.

The censuses were taken in the first weeks of January of the designated year. All homes in the territory assigned to the enumerator were to be visited, and the forms were to be filled out in conjunction with the head of the household. The presence of the other members of the household was not required. This, of course, was a prime opportunity for the commission of errors, especially if the household's head was providing data for distant relatives, in-laws, or non-related boarders.

After an enumerator completed the forms for his assigned area, they were sent to the highest-ranking official in the District Government office by the census commissioner. It was this official's duty to check the accuracy of the data, choosing a random sample. More thorough and complete verification took place in the office of the _starosta_ by specially appointed information verifiers _(rewidenci)_ who performed their task using census returns from preceding years, birth registers, and other documents. Here the most glaring errors were investigated and, if necessary, corrected, such as sudden changes in the religious or linguistic composition of a village. At times, a second census was taken of a given village or area by employees of these offices and not by locals.

In larger cities such as Krakow and Lwow enumerators did not always visit homes. Residents were provided with forms to fill out themselves and return by January 4. As with modern-day censuses in any country, one always has to wonder if everyone was counted and if the responses sent in by the residents themselves were as accurate or complete as those garnered in the presence of the census worker. Another observation may also cast some suspicions as to the completeness of enumeration in village areas. Because the census was taken in January, there were instances that the census workers simply skipped isolated homesteads located far from the village proper. The trip through the snow and ice just didn't seem worth the effort!

Printed statistics of the information obtained from the census returns was then frequently printed for use by government agencies. In summary, the Austrian censuses, despite their shortcomings, are an excellent tool to learn not only about individuals but also other aspects of their collective lives many years ago.