What Does that “S” Mean for Molasses in 1870?

1870 US Agricultural Census, Adams County, Illinois, North East Township, page 8; digital image, FamilySearch.org

Nothing frustrates like an unexplained notation. Sometimes small marks and symbols contain significant information and sometimes they do not. The problem is that when one does not know what they stand for it’s impossible to know whether the notation is meaningful or not.

The enumerator for the 1870 Adams County, Illinois, agricultural census used an apparent superscript “s” in most of the entries for gallons of molasses produced during the census year.

I’ve been trying to find the enumerator’s instructions for the agricultural census in 1870, but so far have not easily located those. My guess is that the “s” stands for sorghum molasses. That’s a guess although it seems reasonable given the location.

I’ve also only looked at the 1870 agricultural enumerations for those townships in Adams County, Illinois, where I have relatives in my search for this notation. That’s generally Clayton, North East, and Honey Creek.

A few things that I need to remember:

  • I’ve used a really small sample. What I’ve found may not apply to other areas.
  • I need to check if the same enumerator did all the townships I’ve looked at–it could just be something this enumerator did.
  • The molasses count is on the “back page” of each enumeration. I’ve been more focused on looking at names in my searches–not molasses measurements. It’s possible that I missed other entries for molasses.

It is always worth considering the limitations of one’s search procedure. Otherwise it can be really easy to draw incorrect conclusions.

My genealogical world will not crumble if I get the “s” in these enumerations wrong, but I do want to avoid getting in a sticky situation–molasses or not.

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