The following article was written by my good friend, William Dollarhide. Enjoy…
Genealogists should know that many of the original sets of census records for 1880 are available to them by visiting various repositories outside of the National Archives. The 1880 census is the only federal census year which was distributed to other repositories by the National Archives and where the originals can be viewed in person at various institutions around the country.
In addition to the microfilm and online versions of the many U.S. Federal censuses, the original manuscripts for the surviving 1790 through 1870 censuses are now kept at the National Archives. This is not the case for later censuses, which, with the exception of the 1880 census, were all destroyed. Why the 1880 census survived as it did is not known.
Some time after the founding of the National Archives in 1934 and before the start of World War II in 1941, all of the surviving census records, 1790-1880, were transferred from the Census Bureau to the National Archives. All of these original census schedules (the name lists) were later microfilmed by the National Archives. However, during World War II, the Census Bureau still had the original censuses from 1900 through 1940 kept in storage at the Commerce Building in Washington, DC. To save space, the Bureau undertook a large microfilming project, and after they were microfilmed, the original 1900 through 1940 censuses were destroyed with the permission of Congress.
After microfilming, in 1956 the National Archives transferred most of the original 1880 census schedules to state archives, state libraries, historical societies, university libraries, or other repositories willing to take them. The National Archives’ offer may have been turned down by certain states and in those cases, the originals were transferred to the DAR Library in Washington, DC, who said they would take any state, and give great care to their preservation. In 1956, the DAR Library took possession of the original 1880 census schedules for Arizona, Connecticut, Iowa, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, and New Mexico. However, a check of the current DAR Library Online Catalog does not list any of the 1880 originals. Further research will be necessary to find out if any were moved and to where. Any reader who has information about any of the eight states first transferred to the DAR Library and their current status is invited to comment to this article.
We do know that the National Archives kept the 92 volumes for 1880 Pennsylvania, which apparently, are the only state originals still located at the Washington DC facility. The National Archives also retained their master microfilm set to the 1880 census, the source for microfilm copies distributed to various libraries and archives around the country.
Although some of the original 1880 census schedules are said to be very fragile, a set of original manuscript volumes act as an better alternate than the microfilmed version. In many cases, the microfilmed copies may be unreadable. But the original documents can be viewed in person for confirmation of the census data if a genealogist is willing to visit a repository where the originals are located.
A recent comment to my Early U.S. Census Losses article was by Michael Elwood Pollock, a professional genealogist who has considerable experience reading the original census manuscripts at the National Archives. Michael said, “. . . on multiple occasions I have encountered microfilm where a page appeared to be blank, but having access to the actual census books at the National Archives, I found there was not only writing on the page, but that it was quite legible, even “crisp”. How could that be possible? Well, early microfilming technology had no appreciation of the fact that a black & white camera can “see” only BLACK or WHITE. All other colors are reduced to shades of gray and if light or dark enough, become indistinguishable from the true black or true white. “
Listed below are the states/territories, the number of state volumes of originals transferred (if known), and a repository holding original 1880 census schedules (if known):
State (in 1880) – Volumes – Repository holding original 1880 census schedules
Alabama – 23 – Dept. of Archives and History, Montgomery, AL
Alaska (Department) – 0 – No 1880 census. AK District 1884, Territory 1912, State 1959.
Arizona (Territory) – 1 – DAR Library, Washington, DC (in 1956)
Arkansas – 15 – Arkansas History Commission, Little Rock, AR
California – 18 – California State Archives, Sacramento, CA
Colorado – 4 – Division of State Archives and Public Records, Denver, CO
Connecticut – 10 – DAR Library, Washington, DC (in 1956)
Delaware – 3 – Hall of Records, Dover, DE
District of Columbia – 16 – Historical Society of Washington, Washington, DC
Florida – 5 – Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL
Georgia – 26 – Georgia Dept. of Archives and History, Atlanta, GA
Hawaii (Kingdom) – 0 – No 1880 census. HI annexed to U.S. 1896, Territory 1900, State 1959.
Idaho (Territory) – 1 – Idaho State Historical Society, Boise, ID
Illinois – 59 – Illinois State Archives, Springfield, IL
Indiana – 38 – Indiana State Library, Indianapolis, IN
Iowa – 33 – DAR Library, Washington, DC (in 1956)
Kansas – 21 – Kansas Genealogical Society, Dodge City, KS
Kentucky – 30 – Kentucky Dept. of Libraries and Archives, Frankfort, KY
Louisiana – 17 – Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA
Maine – 13 – Maine Division of Vital Statistics, Augusta, ME
Maryland – 19 – Maryland State Law Library, Annapolis, MD
Massachusetts – ? – Archives of the Commonwealth, Boston, MA
Michigan – 31 – Michigan Department of State, Lansing, MI
Minnesota – ? – Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, MN
Mississippi – 23 – DAR Library, Washington, DC (in 1956)
Missouri – 45 – DAR Library, Washington, DC (in 1956)
Montana (Territory) – 1 – Montana Historical Society, Helena, MT
Nebraska – 10 – DAR, Washington, DC (in 1956)
Nevada – 2 – Nevada State Museum, Carson City, NV
New Hampshire – 3 – DAR Library, Washington, DC (in 1956)
New Jersey – 22 – Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
New Mexico (Territory) – 3 – DAR Library, Washington, DC (in 1956)
New York – 105 – New York State Library, Albany, NY
North Carolina – 24 – North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh, NC
North Dakota counties of Dakota Territory – ? – State Historical Society of North Dakota, Bismarck, ND, ND a state in 1889.
Oklahoma (Indian Terr.) – 0 – No 1880 census. OK Territory 1890, State 1907.
Ohio – 68 – Ohio State Museum, Columbus, OH
Oregon – 4 – Oregon State Library, Salem, OR
Pennsylvania – 92 – National Archives, Washington, DC (never transferred)
Rhode Island – ? – Repository unknown – info not available from National Archives
South Carolina – ? – Repository unknown – info not available from National Archives
South Dakota counties of Dakota Territory – ? – South Dakota Historical Society, Pierre, SD., SD a state in 1889.
Tennessee – 35 – Tennessee State Library and Archives, Nashville, TN
Texas – 34 – Texas State Library, Austin, TX
Utah (Territory) – 3 – Utah State Archives, Salt Lake City, UT
Vermont – ? – Law and Documents, Vermont State Library, Montpelier, VT
Virginia – 32 – Virginia State Library, Richmond, VA
Washington (Territory) – 2 – Washington State Library, Olympia, WA
West Virginia – 14 – West Virginia Historical Society, Charleston, WV
Wisconsin – 32 – State Historical Society of Wisconsin, Madison, WI
Wyoming (Territory) – 1 – Wyoming State Archives, Cheyenne, WY
Note: An earlier version of this table was published in The Census Book: A Genealogist’s Guide to Federal Census Facts, Schedules, and Indexes, by William Dollarhide.