1870 U.S. Census

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The United States Federal Census

This article is part of a series.
Overview of the U.S. Census
Finding and Reading U.S. Census Records
1790 U.S. Census
1800 U.S. Census
1810 U.S. Census
1820 U.S. Census
1830 U.S. Census
1840 U.S. Census
1850 U.S. Census
1860 U.S. Census
1870 U.S. Census
1880 U.S. Census
1890 U.S. Census
1900 U.S. Census
1910 U.S. Census
1920 U.S. Census
1930 U.S. Census
1940 U.S. Census
Census Indexes and Finding Aids
Using the Soundex with Census Records
Non-Population Schedules and Special Censuses
State and Local Censuses
Census Substitutes
African American Census Schedules
Reconstructed 1790 Census Schedules
Censuses of Native Americans
List of Useful Census References

The 1870 census began on 1 June 1870. The enumeration was completed within five months. The official census population count was 38,558,371.

Questions Asked in the 1870 Census

The 1870 census form called for dwelling houses and families to be 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. The census further asked the age of each individual at his or her last birthday. If a child was one year or less, the age was stated as a fraction of months out of the year, such as 1/12. Additionally, the census asked the sex, color, profession, and occupation or trade of every inhabitant. There were also columns for the disclosure of value of real estate and personal property. The 1870 census asked for the place of birth, specifically the state or territory of the United States, or the country if foreign born (including the province if born in Germany). The schedule provided space to indicate whether or not the father and the mother of the individual was foreign born, and if an individual was born or married within the year, the month in which the event occurred. The census also acknowledged those who had attended school within the year; those who could not read; those who could not write; and the deaf and dumb, blind, insane and the “idiotic” to be identified. Finally, the schedules had space to identify any male citizen of the United States of age twenty-one and older, and any male citizen of the United States age twenty-one and older whose right to vote was denied or abridged on grounds other than rebellion or other crime. (Also see Non-Population Schedules and Special Censuses.)

Other Significant Facts about the 1870 Census

The 1870 census may identify survivors of the Civil War, suggesting they might have military records to be found. Conversely, if an individual does not appear in the 1870 census as expected, it may be a clue that the person was a casualty of the war. In the absence of so many other records from the South for this era, information from the 1870 census can be especially important. A caveat, however, is found in Map Guide to the U.S. Federal Censuses 1790–1920, which states, “The 1870 census in the Southern States omits a great many persons.”

Research Tips for the 1870 Census

The 1870 census is the first census in which parents of foreign birth are indicated—a real boon in identifying immigrant ancestors. Immigrants who were naturalized and eligible to vote are identified, suggesting follow-up in court and naturalization sources. Indications of a person’s color that were intended to be more precise—white (W), black (B), Chinese (C), Indian (I), mulatto (M)—may be helpful in determining individuals’ origins. (Also see “Non-Population Schedules and Special Censuses,” on page 196.)

For a state-by-state listing of census schedules, see The 1790–1890 Federal Population Censuses: Catalog of National Archives Microfilm. For boundary changes and identification of missing census schedules, see Thorndale’s and Dollarhide’s Map Guide to the U.S. Federal Censuses, 1790–1920.