In 1810, Salem, Massachusetts, was the 9th largest city in the United States, with 12,613 people. New York City was first with 96,373, and nearby Boston was fourth with 33,787.
From 1790 to 1870, U.S. Marshals and their assistants conducted the census. Preliminary Inventory 161, Records of the Bureau of the Census, on page 94, states: “Under the provisions of the decennial census acts, 1790-1820, the population schedules were to be deposited with the district court clerks, ‘who were to receive and carefully preserve the same.’ … A resolution of May 28, 1830 (4 Stat. 430), directed the clerks of the district courts to forward the population schedules for the first four censuses to the Secretary of State. … It is known that the 1790 schedules for Rhode Island were forwarded to Washington on June 22, 1830, as a result of the May 28 resolution. Presumably other extant population schedules, 1790-1820, were forwarded at about the same time, but no documentation of such action has been found.”
The Bureau of the Census bound the extant 1810 census schedules into volumes sometime between 1902 and 1934, but the volume that included Essex County lacked the town of Salem. Decades later these same records were microfilmed as National Archives Microfilm Publication M252, Third Census of the United States, 1810, which can be found digitally on popular genealogy websites. It’s likely that many people looking through the 1810 census schedules for Essex County have wondered why Salem was omitted. The answer finally came to light this year.
For unknown reasons, the 1810 census schedules for Salem, Essex County, Massachusetts, became aliened (separated) from Federal custody. Somehow, they eventually came into the custody of the Peabody Essex Museum Library in Salem, Massachusetts. A National Archives staff member noticed a reference to these records on Instagram in February 2021, which set NARA’s Permanent Records Capture team on a mission to return these important records to federal custody. Read more about it here: “Instagram Post Leads to Recovery of 1810 Census Rolls.”