You could sum up the 1880 United States Census and National Index from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in one word: big. It’s not just the sheer size of the CD set (56 discs of data) or the effort behind it (11.5 million hours over 17 years). This new resource could lead to big breakthroughs for genealogists who’ve lost their ancestors somewhere in late 19th-century America.
Federal censuses are generally regarded as the most important records for researching American family history. Without comprehensive indexes, however, finding your family in census records can be quite a challenge. Up to now, the 1880 census had only partial indexes. The WPA created one in the 1930s that covers only households with a child age 10 or younger. You also have to figure out the surname’s Soundex code (a system of four-letter codes based on the way a name sounds — see <www.familytreemagazine.com/soundex.html>) and know the state where the family lived. Ancestry’s recently created head-of-house-hold index is useful, but you’ll have trouble if you don’t know whom your ancestor lived with. This new CD set is a bigger help: It features not only an every-name national index, but also all the most important details from the census records.
The 1880 census CDs list the more than 50 million residents of the 38 states and eight territories as of June 1880. No federal census was taken in Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma). Data transcribed on the CDs includes not only each person’s name, but also his or her relationship to the head of household, age, gender, race, marital status, occupation, birthplace and parents’ birthplace.
A few tips to help you make the best use of this resource:
• Try alternate spellings. The index usually finds all likely spelling variations of both first and last names. Search on the name Crume and matches will include Crume, Croom, Krume, Crumes and Crooms. A search for Crow doesn’t find Crowe, however, and a search for Robertson doesn’t find Robinson or Robison. So be sure to try various spellings just in case.
• Search on just a first name. You don’t even need a last name to find someone in the index. I suspected that my widowed ancestor Lucy Myers had remarried by 1880, but I didn’t know her new married name. So 1 searched for a Lucy born in 1801 who was living in upstate New York and found Lucy Hummel, age 79, now widowed again and living with the family of her daughter Sarah, whose married name was also new to me.
• Check the original census records. Once you find your family on the CDs, look up the original census record at a library or Family History Center to make sure everything was copied correctly and to find additional details such as street address, literacy, disability and school attendance.
Thanks to the full index and flexible searching, the 1880 census CDs are sure to save you a lot of time in your search. You can buy the set for $49 at <www.familysearch.org> or (800) 537-5971. But the best part about these discs is you don’t have to buy them — they’re available free to use at Family History Centers. The discs require Windows 95 or higher and 35MB of hard disk space.
From the February 2002 issue of Family Tree Magazine