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“Duplicate original” is a legal term that applies to two or more copies made simultaneously, each of which can stand as the original document.
When two written documents are substantially alike, so that each might be a copy or transcript from the other, while both stand on the same footing as original instruments, they are called “duplicates.” Agreements, deeds, and other documents are frequently executed in duplicate, in order that each party may have an original in his possession.
We are already familiar with this concept from our everyday lives. Speakers at genealogy conferences sign two copies of their speaker contracts, one for themselves and one for the conference program chair. When we get divorced, both we and our spouses receive copies of the separation agreements and the divorce decree.
Is this legal term used in the same way in the world of genealogy? Essentially the answer to that question is yes. The definition by Elizabeth Shown Mills includes some examples.
Duplicate original: a copy officially made at the same time as the “original.” Examples: The grantor’s and grantee’s copies of a deed, simultaneously made; or the multiple copies of a census schedule that enumerators were required to make in certain years.
Today in the Boston University Genealogical Research Certificate course, instructor Julie Michutka and lead course facilitator Michelle Goodrum posted that duplicate original copies of the U.S. census were made only in certain years and not others. Both noted that, beginning with the 1890 census, only one copy was made, the copy sent to the federal government. They supplied a link to the U.S. Census website discussing pertinent legislation.
It’s a pity that the 1890 U.S. census was the first to exist in only one copy, because that copy was for the most part burned in 1921.
HOW TO CITE:
Barbara Jean Mathews, "What is a duplicate original? And what does it have to do with the U.S. census?" The Demanding Genealogist, posted 22 March 2016; http://blog.demandinggenealogist.com/2016/03/what-is-a-duplicate-original.html : <date accessed>).
 Henry Campbell Black, A Law Dictionary Containing the Definitions of the Terms and Phrases of American and English Jurisprudence, Ancient and Modern, …, Second Edition (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1910), 403, “duplicate;” Google Books (https://books.google.com/books?id=R2c8AAAAIAAJ : accessed 22 March 2016).
 Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Explained, Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 2015), 822, “duplicate original.” For an in-depth discussion, see also Elizabeth Shown Mills, “QuickLesson 10: Original Records, Image Copies, and Derivatives,” Evidence Explained: Historical Analysis, Citation & Source Usage (https://www.evidenceexplained.com/content/quicklesson-10-original-records-image-copies-and-derivatives : accessed 22 March 2016).
 United States Census Bureau, “Legislation: 1830-1899,” History (http://www.census.gov/history/www/reference/legislation/legislation_1830_-_1899.html : accessed 22 March 2016).
 Kellee Blake, “'First in the Path of the Firemen:’ The Fate of the 1890 Population Census, Part 1,” Prologue Magazine selected articles, from 28 (Spring 1996), posted on National Archives (http://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/1996/spring/1890-census-1.html : accessed 22 March 2016).