A comparison between the 1880 US Census and 1881 Canadian census

The Census day for the U.S. census was 1st June 1880 and the census act required each enumerator “to visit personally each dwelling house in his subdivision and each family therein… and by inquiry made of the head of such family or the member thereof deemed most credible and worthy of trust … to obtain the required information and all the particulars.”[1] The 1880 U.S. census was the first U.S. census to provide the name of the street and the house number for urban households.[2] It also was a departure from previous censuses as it was the first to identify:

  • Relationship to the head of household
  • Illness or disability at the time the census was taken
  • Marital status
  • Number of months unemployed during the year
  • State or country of birth of parents.[3]

“Number of months unemployed during the year” is a unique feature to the U.S. Census as is “Illness or disability at the time the census was taken” as the UK and Canadian Censuses concentrate on general illness and disability rather than specifically asking about health on one particular day. The Canadian census does however include a column indicating “Dates of operations and remarks” which seems to be rarely filled in.[4]

The U.S 1880 census is also unique in that it asks for the parents’ birthplaces and has colour as a column heading with a choice of white, black, mulatto, Indian or Chinese.[5] In fact the 1880 US census was the first to use Indian as a race classification.[6] The 1881 Canadian census does have a column entitled ‘Origin’ but that refers to geographical origin of the family rather than a race origin.[7] The US 1880 census also asks more in-depth questions about education, asking not just whether the individual had been to school during the year but also if they were able to read and write (if over 10 years of age).[8] In the meantime the UK census does not have any questions about education[9] whereas the Canadian census is restricted to a Yes/No answer to the question ‘Going to School’.[10]

The 1881 Canadian Census was taken on 04 April 1881 and enumerators visited 192 census districts divided into 2139 sub-districts.[11] In the taking of the census all three are very similar in that they provide a snapshot of a particular time taking by enumerators who were responsible for a certain area of land, be it a parish, borough, city or county. The enumeration data was collected using 8 schedules which included a total of 172 questions – unfortunately only schedule 1 (nominal return of the living) has been preserved.[12] In contrast the U.S. 1880 census was taken on five schedules all available to study (Population, Mortality, Agriculture, Social Statistics, manufacturing). [13] The 1881 Canadian census was the only one of the three to ask about religion [14] and also the only one to record houses in construction whereas all three recorded inhabited and uninhabited properties.[15]

All in all, despite the many similarities ( name, relationship, age, sex, marital status, place of birth, health) the Canadian and U.S. censuses record more comprehensive information than the UK one and also make more of origins and familial connections, reflecting perhaps their colonial pasts and their status as “young” nations.

[1] United States Census Bureau. (2013) 1880 overview. http://www.census.gov/history/www/through_the_decades/overview/1880.html :accessed 31 December 2013.

[2] Szucs, Loretto Dennis and Wright, Matthew. (2006) ‘Census Records.’ In: Szucs, Loretto Denis and Luebking, Sandra Hargreaves, eds. (2006) The source: a guidebook to American genealogy. 3rd ed. Provo, Utah: Ancestry. http://www.ancestry.com/wiki/ : accessed 30 December 2013.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Library and Archives Canada. (2013) About the 1881 Census. http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/census/1881/Pages/about-census.aspx :accessed 31 December 2013.

[5] Szucs, Loretto Dennis and Wright, Matthew. (2006) ‘Census Records.’ In: Szucs, Loretto Denis and Luebking, Sandra Hargreaves, eds. (2006) The source: a guidebook to American genealogy. 3rd ed. Provo, Utah: Ancestry. http://www.ancestry.com/wiki/ : accessed 30 December 2013.

[6] Powell, Kimberley. (NK) Research Guide to the 1880 US Census. http://genealogy.about.com/cs/census/a/1880_census.htm :accessed 01 January 2014.

[7] Library and Archives Canada. (2013) About the 1881 Census. http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/census/1881/Pages/about-census.aspx :accessed 31 December 2013.

[8] Szucs, Loretto Dennis and Wright, Matthew. (2006) ‘Census Records.’ In: Szucs, Loretto Denis and Luebking, Sandra Hargreaves, eds. (2006) The source: a guidebook to American genealogy. 3rd ed. Provo, Utah: Ancestry. http://www.ancestry.com/wiki/ : accessed 30 December 2013.

[9] Ancestry. (2007) 1881 Census Form. http://c.mfcreative.com/pdf/trees/charts/UKCensus1881.pdf :accessed 01 January 2014.

[10] Library and Archives Canada. (2013) About the 1881 Census. http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/census/1881/Pages/about-census.aspx :accessed 31 December 2013.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] United States Census Bureau. (2013) 1880 overview. http://www.census.gov/history/www/through_the_decades/overview/1880.html :accessed 31 December 2013.

[14] Library and Archives Canada. (2013) About the 1881 Census. http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/census/1881/Pages/about-census.aspx :accessed 31 December 2013.

[15] Ibid.

Advertisements