The 1880 Census – A Research Guide

by | 8 Nov 2020

Census Day: 1 June 1880
Time to Complete: One month
U.S. Population: 50.2 million

On 1 June 1880, the Bureau of the Census began taking the 10th decennial census of the United States. This canvass of Americans was to be completed within thirty days, or within two weeks for communities with populations under 10,001. 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, even if it had changed in the meantime. Thus, children born after 1 June should not be listed, and people who died after 1 June should still be counted.  1880 marked the first time that women were permitted to be enumerators. 

Thirty-eight states, including the newly-admitted state of Colorado, were included in the 1880 census, along with eight territories: Arizona, Dakota, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming territories. Non-organized Alaska was also enumerated, but the Indian Territory was not enumerated for non-Indians. New York state was home to the largest population in the United States, followed by Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, and Missouri. The most populous cities included New York City, Philadelphia, Brooklyn, Chicago, and Boston.

Continuing to collect more information than previous census schedules, the 1880 census was the first to record the relationship of each individual to the head of household, as well as the birthplace of each person’s mother and father. It is also the first U.S. census to use Indian as a race classification, the first to provide the name of the street and house number for urban households, and the first to identify illness or disability, marital status, and the number of months unemployed during the year.

Questions Asked in the 1870 Census

  • street name and house number for urban households
  • the name, age, and sex of each individual in the household
  • relationship of each individual to head of household
  • race of each individual (white, black, mulatto, Indian, or Chinese)
  • if born within the year, the month of birth
  • whether single, married, widowed, or divorced
  • whether married within the year
  • state, territory, or country of birth
  • father’s state, territory, or country of birth
  • mother’s state, territory, or country of birth
  • profession, occupation, or trade
  • number of months unemployed during the census year
  • whether sick or temporarily disabled and, if so, the nature of the illness
  • whether blind, deaf and dumb, crippled, maimed, idiotic, insane, bedridden, or otherwise permanently disabled
  • if attended school within the year
  • whether able to read and write

1880 Census Fun Facts

The process of tallying the 1880 census took seven years to complete so the Census Bureau contracted with former Census Office employee Herman Hollerith to design and build a tabulating machine to be used for the next census. The 1880 census also led to the discovery of the Alabama paradox, an apportionment paradox, or situation, in which the total number of representative seats increases while all populations remain fixed, causing some state’s allotment of representatives to decrease as a result.

1870 Census Online

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©2024 Kimberly Powell. Use of this article elsewhere without permission violates copyright. Short excerpts and links are welcome, with credit and a link back to Learn Genealogy.

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