Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Tuesday's Tip: Research Using the 1880 United States Federal Census

The record collection for the 1880 United States Federal Census is one of my favorite record collections.  It is available in digital format online at:

*  Ancestry.com  (Free) - 50,480,843 entries

*  MyHeritage.com ($$) - 50,473,326 entries

*  Findmypast.com (Free) - 50,358,399 entries

*  FamilySearch.org (Free) - 50,471,461 entries

The official population count of the United States in 1880 was 50,189,209.

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

The description of the 1880 United States Federal Census collection on Ancestry.com says:
The 1880 United States Federal Census contains information about 50 million individuals. This census gives us a glimpse into the lives of Americans in 1880, and contains information about a household’s occupants including birthplaces, occupations, health conditions, and education.
The 1880 census is a valuable tool in part because it is the only U. S. census available for the last two decades of the 1800s. Most of the original 1890 population schedules were destroyed in a fire at the Commerce Department in 1921. Less than one percent of the schedules—records enumerating only 6,160 individuals—survived.
Many of these questions, specifically those detailing mental and physical health, can only be found within the original census document. Ancestry.com's image viewer allows you to scan the original document for this valuable data. The age of this data may lead to discoveries about fourth, fifth or even sixth ancestral generations. The depth of this data can offer personal detail lacking in earlier census surveys. The family relationships category can provide information about extended family. If a married daughter has been counted as part of her father's household, her married surname will appear in the census. Questions about health may reveal symptoms of family illnesses that have appeared in later generations.

The 1880 census began on 1 June 1880 for the general population of the United States. The enumeration was to be completed within thirty days, or two weeks for communities with populations of 10,000 or fewer. Regardless of when an individual was contacted, all responses were to reflect the status of the individual as of 1 June 1880, the official Census Day.
Thirty-eight states (including the recently admitted Colorado) were enumerated in the 1880 census, along with eight territories: Arizona, Dakota, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. Non-organized Alaska was also enumerated, but the "Indian Territory" (now Oklahoma) was not enumerated for non-Indians.
Enumerators (census takers) collected the following information for each household: 
  • Address (name of the street; house number)
  • Occupant (name of each person and their relationship to head of family)
  • Personal (sex, race, age, marital status, ability to read and write, birthplace, and birthplace of parents)
  • Occupation (trade or profession; number of months unemployed)
  • Health (whether blind, deaf and dumb, crippled, maimed, idiotic, insane, bedridden, or otherwise disabled)
Unique Feature
The 1880 census was the first to identify an individual’s relation to the head of household. In addition, the 1880 census was the first to identify the state, county, and other subdivisions; the name of the street and house number for urban households; illness or disability at the time the census was taken; marital status; number of months unemployed during the year; and the state or country of birth of every individual’s father and mother.
Search Tips

  • Check for variant spellings of names. In 1880, many people could not read or write and they might not have been sure of the spelling of their own names; rigid spelling of names was uncommon.
  • The 1880 census identifies the state or country of birth for an individual’s parents. You can use this location as a starting point to conduct research for additional ancestors.
  • The census may be used to supplement birth or marriage records for the census year or even to partially replace them where vital records are not recorded elsewhere.
  • Because this is the first census to state an individual’s relationship to the head of household, the 1880 census may be useful in discovering previously unknown married daughters, mothers-in-law, cousins, and other relatives living with the family. Note: Keep in mind that the wife may not be the mother of any or all of the children listed.
Interesting Facts

  • The 1880 census may provide clues to genetic diseases in earlier generations of a family. The census reported whether an individual was blind, deaf, dumb, idiotic, insane, maimed, or crippled.
  • This is the first U. S. census to use “Indian” as a race classification.
  • Indians not taxed are not in regular population schedules. Some may appear in special Indian schedules.

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               1640 (on Ancestry)
                              1535 (on MyHeritage)
                              1534 (on Findmypast)
                              1529 (on Family Search)

*  Carringer             133 (on Ancestry)
                                  97 (on MyHeritage)
                                  97 (on Findmypast)
                                  97 (on Family Search)

*  Auble                  336 (on Ancestry)
                                328 (on MyHeritage)
                                328 (on Findmypast)
                                328 (on Family Search)

*  Vaux                    207  (on Ancestry)
                                188 (on MyHeritage)
                                188 (on Findmypast)
                                172 (on Family Search) 

*  Smith           639,706 (on Ancestry)
                         660,867 (on MyHeritage)
                         631,064 (on Findmypast)
                         630,725 (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 1880, 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 address) 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 6742.  Currently, I have over 3,020 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 2,389 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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