Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Tuesday's Tip: Research Using the 1870 United States Federal Census

The record collection for the 1870 United States Federal Census is one of my favorite record collections.  It is available in digital format online at:

*  Ancestry.com  ($$) - 40,405,476 entries

*  MyHeritage.com ($$) - 40,383,628 entries

*  Findmypast.com ($$) - 40,288,027 entries

*  FamilySearch.org (Free) - 40,350,163 entries

The official population count of the United States in 1870 was 38,555,983.

Why are the number of entries different at each provider, and different from the official census count?  Perhaps it is because all of the  providers permit an alternate user-provided index entry for enumerated persons.

The description of the 1870 United States Federal Census collection on Ancestry.com says:
This database details those persons enumerated in the 1870 United States Federal Census, the Ninth Census of the United States. In addition, the names of those listed on the population schedule are linked to the actual images of the 1870 Federal Census, copied from the National Archives and Records Administration microfilm, M593, 1761 rolls; part of Minnesota T132. (If you do not initially find the name on the page that you are linked to, try a few pages forward or backward, as sometimes different pages had the same page number.)
Enumerators of the 1870 census were instructed to record the names of every person in the household. Added to this, enumerators were presented with printed instructions, which account for the greater degree of accuracy compared with earlier censuses. Enumerators were asked to include the following categories in the census:  name; age at last birthday (if a child was under one year of age, months of age were to be stated as fractions, such as 1/12); sex; color; profession; occupation or trade of every male and female; value of real estate; place of birth; whether mother and father were of foreign birth; whether born or married within the year and the month; those who could not read; those who could not write; whether deaf, dumb, blind, or insane or "idiotic". No relationships were shown between members of a household. The categories allowed Congress to determine persons residing in the United States for collection of taxes and the appropriation of seats in the House of Representatives.
All states are now indexed and linked to the actual census images.
This database is certain to prove useful for those seeking early American ancestors.
The United States was the first country to call for a regularly held census. The Constitution required that a census of all "Persons...excluding Indians not taxed" be performed to determine the collection of taxes and the appropriation of seats in the House of Representatives. The first nine censuses from 1790-1870 were organized under the United States Federal Court system. Each district was assigned a U.S. marshal who hired other marshals to administer the census. Governors were responsible for enumeration in territories.
The official enumeration day of the 1870 census was 1 June 1870. All questions asked were supposed to refer to that date. The 1870 census form called for the dwelling houses to be numbered in the order of visitation; families numbered in order of visitation; and the name of every person whose place of abode on the first day of June 1870 was with the family.
Here is an example from the FamilySearch census for a search for one person (two screens below):

  I searched each record provider for some of my exact surnames of interest.  The results are:

*  Seaver               1309 (on Ancestry)
                              1213 (on MyHeritage)
                              1213 (on Findmypast)
                              1211 (on Family Search)

*  Carringer             103 (on Ancestry)
                                  46 (on MyHeritage)
                                  46 (on Findmypast)
                                  46 (on Family Search)

*  Auble                  293 (on Ancestry)
                                265 (on MyHeritage)
                                265 (on Findmypast)
                                265 (on Family Search)

*  Vaux                    166  (on Ancestry)
                                165 (on MyHeritage)
                                163 (on Findmypast)
                                152 (on Family Search) 

*  Smith            521,236 (on Ancestry)
                         518,761 (on MyHeritage)
                         518,763 (on Findmypast)
                         518,188 (on Family Search)

FamilySearch, MyHeritage and Findmypast have almost the same number of entries for each surname except Smith - I think FamilySearch provided the index and images for this collection to Findmypast and MyHeritage.

Ancestry,com and FamilySearch created separate census indexes using paid and/or volunteer indexers.  The differences in numbers between providers for a specific surname is probably due to some of the providers permitting a user-submitted addition to the index.

It is important to understand what this collection represents and includes.  This collection is paper records created by the U.S. Census Bureau in 1870, copied to microfilm and provided in digital format at some time to the digital record providers for a fee.  The record providers then used paid or volunteer indexers to create the different indexes.

These records are Original Source records, with Primary Information (state, county, town) and Secondary Information (for everything else), and Indirect Evidence of the person's name, age, and other items.

I use this database extensively to find my ancestors, my relatives, and other persons in my family tree.  I usually download the record image to my computer for my ancestors, summarize the information for each person in the household, and enter a Census event for the household, with the official census date, the census place, and craft a source citation.  I add a Note for each person with the location, date, and household summary information, and add a Media item for each person in the household of my ancestral families.

For those interested in mining this record collection for Hints of persons in their Ancestry Member Tree, the Ancestry.com database number is 7163.  Currently, I have over 2,620 Hints for persons in my Ancestry Member Tree who are indexed in this record collection.  I work on them occasionally, adding content and source citations to profiles in my RootsMagic family tree.  Of course, I have some accepted Hints from this collection already in my RootsMagic family tree and my Ancestry Member Tree, but not many.

I have not attached many MyHeritage Hints to my MyHeritage tree, which is now a year out of date.  On MyHeritage, I have 1,891 pending Record Matches for persons in my MyHeritage tree.


NOTE:  Tuesday's Tips is a genealogy blog meme intended to provide information about a resource helpful to genealogists and family historians, especially in the U.S. online genea-world.

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RonNasty said...

One of the things I am struggling with in my genealogy is organizing the electronic data. What tips can you suggest for naming the Census file and are you using the Census forms on Ancestry to record the details?

Randy Seaver said...


My practice for naming files and recording details is:

Typical US census file name: IsaacSeaver-1870-CensusUS-LeominsterWorcesterMA-M593-Roll654-pg284

My convention is: FirstLast-Year-RecordType-Place=Series-Roll-Page for 1850 to 1880 census records.

I suimmarize the details of the family census entry in the Event Note in RootsMagic. Isacc Seaver's note for 1870 is:

In the 1870 US census, this family resided in Leominster, Worcester County, Massachusetts. The household included:

* Isaac Seaver -- age 46, male, white, works in a fork shop, $2000 in real property, $1500 in personal property, born MA
* Lucretia D. Seaver -- age 42, female, white, keeping house, born MA
* Frank W. Seaver -- age 18, male, white, attends school, born MA
* Benjamin Seaver -- age 16, male, white, attends school, born MA
* Elizabeth Seaver -- age 11, female, white, attends school, born MA
* Ellen M. Seaver -- age 8, female, white, attends school, born MA

I copy the Event, the source citation and the Note into each family member's profile in RootsMagic. That way each child gets a running account by year when it is printed in a report.

I don't use the census forms on Ancestry - I know the headings and can see them on the census forms with the family data if I need to refresh my memory.

I hope this helps.