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)
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.
- 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.
- 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.
The material used to create this database comes from four different sources. In certain instances records from individual states were used to reconstruct specific counties.
ED Description data came from The National Archives and One-Step by Stephen P. Morse.