The 1880 census was carried out under a law enacted March 3, 1879. Additional
amendments to the law were made on April 20, 1880, and appropriations made on
June 16, 1880—16 days after the actual enumeration had begun.
The new census law specifically handed over the supervision of the enumeration
to a body of officers, known as supervisors of the census, specifically chosen
for the work of the census, and appointed in each state or territory, of which
they should be residents before March 1, 1880.
Each supervisor was responsible for recommending the organization of his
district for enumeration, choosing enumerators for the district and supervising
their work, reviewing and transmitting the returns from the enumerators to the
central census office, and overseeing the compensation for enumerators in each
Each enumerator was required by law "to visit personally each dwelling house in
his subdivision, and each family therein, and each individual living out of a
family in any place of abode, and by inquiry made of the head of such family, or
of the member thereof deemed most credible and worthy of trust, or of such
individual living out of a family, to obtain each and every item of information
and all the particulars." In case no one was available at a family’s usual place
of abode, the enumerator was directed by the law "to obtain the required
information, as nearly as may be practicable, from the family or families, or
person or persons, living nearest to such place of abode."
The 1879 census act also provided for the collection of detailed data on the
condition and operation of railroad corporations, incorporated express
companies, and telegraph companies, and of life, fire, and marine insurance
companies (using Schedule No. 4 - Social Statistics). In addition, the
Superintendent of Census was required to collect and publish statistics of the
population, industries, and resources of Alaska, with as much detail as was
practical. An enumeration was made of all untaxed Indians within the
jurisdiction of the United States to collect as much information about their
condition as possible.
The following five schedules were authorized by the 1880 census act:
- Population. The 1880 schedule was similar to that used previously,
with a few exceptions.
- Mortality. The schedule used the same inquiries as in 1870, and
added inquiries to record marital status, birthplace of parents, length of
residence in the United States or territory, and name of place where the
disease was contracted, if other than place of death.
The Superintendent of Census was authorized to withdraw the mortality schedule
in those areas where an official registration of death was maintained, and the
required statistics were then collected from these administrative records.
- Agriculture. In addition to greatly expanded inquiries concerning
various crops (including acreage for principal crop), questions were added to
collect data on farm tenure, weeks of hired labor, annual cost for fence
building and repair, fertilizer purchases, and the number of livestock as of
June 1, 1880.
- Social Statistics. Section 18 of the March 3, 1879, census act made
the collection of social statistics the responsibility of experts and special
agents, not the enumerators. Although some data were collected by enumerators
using the general population schedule (Schedule No. 1), the majority of the
data were collected through correspondence with officials of institutions
providing care and treatment of certain members of the population. Experts and
special agents also were employed to collect data on valuation, taxation, and
indebtedness; religion; libraries; colleges, academies, and schools;
newspapers and periodicals, and wages.
- Relating to Manufactures. In addition to the inquiries made in
1870, this schedule contained new inquiries as to the greatest number of hands
employed at any time during the year, the number of hours in the ordinary work
day from May to November and November to May, the average daily wages paid to
skilled mechanics and laborers, months of full- and part-time operation, and
Special agents were charged with collecting data on specific industries
throughout the country, and included the manufactures of iron and steel;
cotton, woolen, and worsted goods; silk and silk goods; chemical products and
salt; coke and glass; shipbuilding; and all aspects of fisheries and mining,
including the production of coal and petroleum.
Interdecennial Censuses of States and Territories: 1885
In addition to the 1880 Census, the 1879 census act also provided for
interdecennial censuses by any state or territory, through their duly appointed
officers, during the 2 months beginning with the first Monday of June 1885
(State Censuses: An Annotated Bibliography of Census of Population Taken After
the Year 1790 by States and Territories of the United States, Prepared by Henry
J. Dubester). The schedules used were to be similar in all respects to those
used by the federal census. Upon completion of a state or territorial census,
certified copies of the returns were to be forwarded to the Secretary of the
Interior by September 1 of the interdecennial year. States or territories opting
to conduct these censuses were provided 50 percent of the total cost to cover
census operations. As a result, the states of Florida, Nebraska, and Colorado,
and the territories of New Mexico and Dakota conducted censuses in 1885. Copies
of the returns were sent to the Department of the Interior, but the data were
The 1880 census covered the following states:
- Alaska (unorganized)
- Arizona Territory
- Dakota Territory
- District of Columbia
- Idaho Territory
- Indian Territory1
- Montana Territory
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico Territory
- New York
- North Carolina
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- Utah Territory
- Washington Territory
- West Virginia
- Wyoming Territory
Information Found Within the 1880 Census
- Name of each person.
- Name of the county, parish, township, town, or city where the family
- Color (Race)
- Whether married in the last year
- Profession, occupation, or trade of each person over 15 years of age
- Value of Real Estate
- Value of Personal Estate
- Whether deaf, blind, dumb, insane, idiotic, pauper, or criminal
- Whether able to speak or speak English
- Whether the person attended school within the previous year
- Birthplace of father and mother
- Whether able to read or write
- Identified male citizens whose right to vote was revoked for reasons other
then rebellion or other crime.
- Health and Education of each individual
Genealogy Strategy for the 1880 Census
- Location of the Household
As in all census, the location of the household at the time the
census was taken becomes a valuable tool for further research allowing you to
concentrate on records of that time period in that particular location. The
1880 census will provide you the district, township, and county of your
ancestor. It is also the first census to provide the name of the street and
house number in urban areas.
- Establishing the Composition of a Family
For the first time, the 1880 census identified the relationship to the
head of household of other household residents.
- Age of Inhabitants
The 1880 census (column 6) indicates the month in which the person
was born, if born "within the year," that is between June 1, 1869 and May 31,
1870. While not an exact age, the fact that you're provided the year each
person is born will assist you in finding birth records.
- Tracking the Migration
The 1880 census provides the birthplace of each individual along with
the birthplaces of each parent for that person, making it much easier to track
the origin of a family. Genealogists should always be cautious of any
information provided a census taker, and realize that many ancestors for their
own reasons would not provide accurate answers to this type of a question due
to the prejudices of the time.
The occupation of each family member over 15 is recorded. Indication of a
farmer would point to further searching of Schedule 4, agricultural census. A
mention of a profession would indicate possible search of a professional
directory. Clergy were enumerated as well under occupation, and the
genealogist should search within the records of the denomination indicated.
The 1880 census (columns 25-26), indicate the person's parents' birthplaces.
- Real Estate
An indication of real estate value might point to land or tax records.
- At School
An indication of being at school within a household might point to
local school records.
An indication of insane within a household might point to
guardianship or institutional records.1
The indication of a persons enumeration as a convict is rare,
unless the census actually finds them in the jail at the time of the census.
Furthermore, a person in jail, may be listed twice, if his home was in a
different district. Instructions given to the enumerator was to ask, or use
their own knowledge and county records as a source, in identifying those who
had been a "criminal" within the past year.
- Native American Research
It is possible to find your Native American ancestor in the 1870
census only if they were residing in an area being taxed. If this is the case,
then your ancestor would be enumerated as any other tax paying citizen was.
Even though there was a census of the Indian Territory, nobody residing in
this area was enumerated.
- Parents Birthplace Location
For the first time, the parents birthplace location is provided.
1880 Census Forms
- Source: Inter-University Consortium for Political and
Social Research. Study 00003: Historical Demographic, Economic, and Social
Data: U.S., 1880-1970. Anne Arbor: ICPSR.
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