Understanding the 1880 Census Questions

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 district.

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.

1880 Census Guide – Questions & Information

The following five schedules were authorized by the 1880 census act:

  1. Population. The 1880 schedule was similar to that used previously, with a few exceptions.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 machinery used.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 not published.

The 1880 census covered the following states:

  1. Alabama
  2. Alaska (unorganized)
  3. Arizona Territory
  4. Arkansas
  5. California
  6. Colorado
  7. Connecticut
  8. Dakota Territory
  9. Delaware
  10. District of Columbia
  11. Florida
  12. Georgia
  13. Idaho Territory
  14. Illinois
  15. Indiana
  16. Indian Territory 1
  17. Iowa
  18. Kansas
  19. Kentucky
  20. Louisiana
  21. Maine
  22. Maryland
  23. Massachusetts
  24. Michigan
  25. Minnesota
  26. Mississippi
  27. Missouri
  28. Montana Territory
  29. Nebraska
  30. Nevada
  31. New Hampshire
  32. New Jersey
  33. New Mexico Territory
  34. New York
  35. North Carolina
  36. Ohio
  37. Oregon
  38. Pennsylvania
  39. Rhode Island
  40. South Carolina
  41. Tennessee
  42. Texas
  43. Utah Territory
  44. Vermont
  45. Virginia
  46. Washington Territory
  47. West Virginia
  48. Wisconsin
  49. Wyoming Territory

Information Found Within the 1880 Census

  • Name of each person.
  • Name of the county, parish, township, town, or city where the family resides
  • Age
  • Sex
  • Color (Race)
  • Birthplace
  • 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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Occupation
    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.
  6. Foreigners
    The 1880 census (columns 25-26), indicate the person’s parents’ birthplaces.
  7. Real Estate
    An indication of real estate value might point to land or tax records.
  8. At School
    An indication of being at school within a household might point to local school records.
  9. Insane
    An indication of insane within a household might point to guardianship or institutional records.
  10. Convict
    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.
  11. 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.
  12. Parents Birthplace Location
    For the first time, the parents birthplace location is provided.

1880 Census Forms


  1. Source: Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research. Study 00003: Historical Demographic, Economic, and Social Data: U.S., 1880-1970. Anne Arbor: ICPSR.


  1. The Indian Territory, which contained the present day Oklahoma, was enumerated only for those Non-American settlers.[]

1880 Census,

Partridge, Dennis N. United States Census Guide. Copyright 2008-2013.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Discover more from Access Genealogy

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading

Scroll to Top