A religious group has broken the seal of secrecy regarding U.S. census data, but it’s OK. The information is 121 years old.
The data come from the 1880 census courtesy of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Some 20,000 mostly church-member volunteers spent 11.5 million hours over 17 years transcribing the longhand records of the 50,476,366 individuals who resided in what was then a nation of 38 states and eight territories. The result is the first U.S. head count ever published in its totality.
With the help of specialists from the University of Minnesota’s Minnesota Population Center, the census has been reproduced in a set of 56 compact discs that yield the name, age, gender, race, marital status, occupation, birthplace and the neighbors of each recorded resident. The data also include the birthplace of the individual’s parents.
All this information about America’s Gilded Age citizens can now be distributed because the strict ban on releasing personal census data applies for just 72 years after its collection. And it’s certain that this information will be widely distributed. In addition to being available on CD, the data soon will be added to the church’s genealogy Web site (www.familysearch.org).
Important in its own right, the site contains 22 million names culled from the Ellis Island arrival manifests dated January 1892 to December 1924 plus hundreds of millions of names gathered from other sources. The free-access Web facility currently gives family history researchers the ability to search through 887 million names. Each day it is visited some 2,300 times.
But release of the 1880 census holds special significance for historians, genealogists and those merely curious about their great-great-ancestors.
For one thing, it makes it possible and relatively convenient for people to discover ancestors who headed toward the frontier in the course of the nation’s great Western expansion and then lost all contact with their families.
Beyond that, it was the first census taken by specially appointed government agents rather than U.S. marshals and their assistants. Consequently, it is presumed to be more accurate. What’s more, it solicited many more details from residents than any of the nine previous decennial head counts.
So it’s now possible, for instance, to call up the name of the fabled frontiersman, gunslinger and deputy U.S. marshal, Wyatt Earp “Wyatt S. Earp,” that is and learn that in 1880 the then-resident of Tombstone Village in Pima County, Ariz., was a single 32-year-old who listed his occupation as “farmer.” He lived with Virgil Earp, 36, a married farmer, James C. Earp, a 39-year-old “saloon keeper,” and the ladies of the house, Alley, 22, Mattie, 22, Bessie, 36, and Hattie, 16.
There was Missouri-born Samuel Clemens, then a 44-year-old author. He lived with Olivia, his 34-year-old wife, his daughters Susan, 8, and Clara, 5, and three servants in Hartford, Conn., near the home of Patrick Mcallen. Mr. Mcallen was a 36-year old Irishman who had four sons and a daughter.
The census doesn’t mention it, but 1880 the year when James A. Garfield, the Ohio Republican, was elected president and Thomas A. Edison patented the electric light was a big year for Sam Clemens, a k a Mark Twain. That year, he published his well received book of reminiscences, “A Tramp Abroad.”
Although such information might delight the merely inquisitive, it isn’t being presented for them. It’s made available to aid those seriously searching for their ancestors.
David E. Rencher, director of the church’s Family History Library says the church “focuses on the family and the eternal nature of families. For doctrinal purposes we attempt to identify and reunite family groups.”
He refers to the church’s teaching that certain rites can be performed on behalf of deceased family members, and that living church members, serving as proxies, can be baptized for dead relatives. “Members are taught that they have a religious obligation to trace their own genealogies and perform temple ordinances for their ancestors,” one church document states.