Prepared by Elisabeth Lindsay.
In simplest terms, an enumerator is one who counts. It is also the official term used to describe the census taker whose responsibility is to take a head count of all persons living within a given area for a particular census year. Enumerators, however, may be utilized in many areas such as elections or in the military where a counting or listing of people or things plays a central role.
In genealogy, the terms enumerator and census taker are often used synonymously. The enumerator's name is typically listed at the top of each sheet in the census record, along with the location and the date the information was recorded. Many census errors can be attributed to enumerator error, including the legibility of handwriting; names were typically spelled the way they sounded; information was taken from whomever was at home -- regardless of age; and if no one was home, enumerators may have queried neighbors or even guessed at the information. There were also copying errors when as census records were duplicated. Keeping the margin of error in mind, census records continue to be a valuable tool in genealogy for identifying people in time and place, establishing relatinships, and providing leads to personal information.