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Getting the Most from the U. S. 1880 Federal Census

Bureau of the CensusThe 1880 U.S. Federal Census, under U.S. President was Rutherford B. Hayes, was the tenth enumeration of the United States population and represented more than a 30% growth in the country compared to the 1870 census. Many of our ancestors came from Europe, Canada, South America or Asia during the 1860s and 1870s, so it is understandable the nation’s population increased.

The 1880 Census done by the Department of the Interior was the first U.S. Census to record the relationship between household members and the head of household, such as a daughter to the head of household. Thirty-eight states were enumerated in the 1880 census, plus the territories of Arizona, Dakota, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Utah, Washington and Wyoming were included. Alaska was also enumerated, however the “Indian Territory” (what would become Oklahoma) was only enumerated for the Indian population.

The official date was June 1, 1880 and the enumerators had just one month to compete their assigned area.  The final result showed a population of some 50,189,209 people.

Some of the more interesting questions asked about a person for the census was their health.  It was noted any person who was blind, deaf & dumb, idiotic, insane, maimed, crippled or bedridden.  Also a person’s ability to read and write, where their parents were born and if a person was single, married or divorced were placed on the 1880 census form.

Two good online sources to research the 1880 census are and FamilySearch which both offer the information free. For the (Church of the Latter-Day Saints) you must put in a given and surname. FamilySearch provides a listing of any matches.  Clicking on one provides the transcribed basic information: name, age, occupation, birth location for individual and parents.

Using the online you can just put in a surname or even an unusual given name. A listing of names appears, from where you click on ‘view record’ will see the transcribed information, the county, estimated birth year, age, birthplace, spouse’s name, parent’s birth location, and then a listing of other individuals in the household in June 1880 and their ages.  This helps narrow down that the right ancestor is located. Then click on actual view of the original hand-written census.

Scroll down to locate the person you are searching for. This is the written census at the time done by the enumerator in charge of that area, usually a local citizen of the town. A good date to note is the exact date, located at the top of the page, the enumerator interviewed the household, but remembering the information is based on who was in the house on June 1, 1880.

When you see a fraction such as 2/12 for a person’s age that refers to their age in months.  So such a person would be 2 months old on June 1st and more than likely was born about the end of March.  Don’t get to unnerved if a person’s age appears different than you may have expected, especially for adults. Men and women many times either didn’t know their actual age or wanted to decrease or even increase their years.  If a man married an older woman, he might state his age a few years older to be more in line with her age.

Given names can be different, especially with children. A young daughter might be listed with a nickname such as ‘Maggie’ when her full name was ‘Margaret.’  Make note of a middle initial or middle name written.  In a later census the person may be using that middle name as their first name only. Or a name spelled ‘Ellenora’ might later just be written ‘Eleanor.’

Another item to watch for is any missing children from a household.  If you had additional siblings for an ancestor and they are young enough to have still been with their parents, they could have been with a grandparent’s household at census time or have passed away. Take careful notes and review other relatives’ 1880 census information.

There will be occupations you may never have heard of before.  Again this census is the 19th century, more than 130 years ago, things were different.  For example, a ‘constable’ was a policeman.  People made shoes by hand and were a shoemaker. Those who worked with leather were a ‘tanner.’  A ‘huckster’ was a peddler or merchant. The ‘coach maker’ produced passenger wagons pulled by horses.  One item that will catch your attention is the adult women listed as homemaker or keeping house, including grow daughters living at home.

Scroll up and down to the neighbors.  Other relatives (in-laws, siblings, parents) may live next door or nearby.  Also future spouses may have lived only a few doors down.

There will also be a live-in help, unusually listed as a ‘servant.’  Since many people who had larger home also took in boarders, those individuals will be listed.

When checking on ancestors in small towns, it is worthwhile to look over all the individuals in that census. If there are 50 or less census image pages, that is manageable to review.  You might spot another possible relative, but certainly get a better impression of the people in that town, their families and occupations.

The 1880 U. S. Federal census is free to use and very easy to navigate. Even if you have gone over it once before, it is always best to review those records again.  You just never know what you will spot this time around.

< Return To Blog Good News! We Mac addicts can now papircitate in the FamilySearch Indexing Project. I wrote in an earlier comment that the applet needed in order to work with the records was only available for Windows OS, but I registered for the Project this week-end without any problems. I am looking forward to paying back FamilySearch, if only in this small way, for what they do for genealogists.By the way, has a similar indexing project titled World Archives Project, but you do need Windows OS to get involved. According to their info, active contributors will receive free access to original images in the project’s databases and those who already subscribe to will be eligible for a discount on renewal.
Zaleha 5/10/11

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