Genealogy: 1870 U.S. federal census tutorial

1870 mastheadBy Barry J. Ewell

This is a comprehensive tutorial for researching the 1870 U.S. federal census. You will be introduced to what I have used and shared with thousands to successfully find generations of family. Begin by learning how to use the census as a foundation to effective research, identify, map, and follow family through generations.

The tutorial will expand your knowledge and skills of how to conduct an exhaustive search to find genealogical and Family History records, repositories, resolve research problems and connect with resources researching similar lines.

The tutorial is divided into the following sections:

  • 1790-1940 U.S federal census resources
  • Introduction to 1870 U.S. federal census
  • How to effectively use the 1870 U.S. federal census
  • Search the 1870 census schedules
  • Expand your census research with military records
  • Defining the U.S. federal census
  • How to use the 1870 U.S. federal census
  • Questions asked on the 1870 census

1870 resources
Click on any of the following years and you will be taken to that years’ census tutorial:


  • U.S. census learning aids. Throughout the 1870 U.S. federal census tutorial find links to resources that I have specifically prepared to help you. In addition, I have written and assembled 190+ articles and resource aids to provide you a more in-depth understanding of the census research process.  I have tried to cover every possible question and angle that you are likely to face in your U.S. census research.  I would encourage you to use the resources often.  The category headings are as follows:
    • 190+ U.S. federal census articles and resource aids
      • U.S. federal census tutorials
      • Census and genealogy forms
      • Census research skills
      • Follow ancestors through the census
      • Researching names in the census
      • Defining ancestor age
      • Expanding census research to other resources
      • Expand your census research with military records
      • Census research best practices

1870 resources
The following are a few of the details that are important to understand about the 1870 U.S. Federal census:

1870 Census Map

Number of persons included in the 1870 census: 39,818, 449 people were enumerated in the United States.

1870 census day:  June 1, 1870
1870 census duration: 5 months
1870 census geography:

  • States and territories enumerated: 37 states and nine territories where included in the census.
  • New states: The newest states included the in 1870 census were West Virginia, Nebraska, Kansas, and Nevada
  • Territories included: Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Colorado, Idaho, Arizona, Utah, Wyoming, Montana, Washington, Dakota and Indian
  • The available states include: Alabama, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin
  • The missing states: All census records survived.

A few important facts about the 1870 census include:

  • Specific location for Germany. For the specific country of birth (i.e. Germany), the enumerator was to be more specific: Baden, Prussia, Bavaria, Wurttemberg, Hessen-Darmstadt.
  • Numeration date. he numeration date is June 1, 1870 with five months to complete the census. On this form you are provided the actual date with the census taker was at the place of residence for your ancestor. While the family was to provide who was in the home as of June 1, 1870.
  • President during census. Ulysses S. Grant is the president
  • Three copies of census. Enumerators were to make two extra copies of the original census: 1) one for the county clerk 2) one for the state/territory 3) Census office.  This simply means that you will either be looking at the original or a copy of the schedules.
  • Five schedules. Five  schedules were  prepared for the 1870 census. They included:
    • Schedule 1: General Population
    • Schedule 2: Mortality
    • Schedule 3: Agriculture
    • Schedule 4: Products of Industry
    • Schedule 5: Social Statistics
  • Emancipation Proclamation. President Abraham Lincoln enacted the Emancipation Proclamation, as of Jan. 1, 1863, all slaves were free. This is the first census where those nameless persons on the slave schedules are now free and listed by name and age. The war had liberated nearly four million slaves and at the same time created the challenge of establishing a new social order based on freedom and racial equality.
  • The Freedmen’s Bureau. Established in 1865 The Freedmen’s Bureau (the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands) provided assistance to thousands of former slaves and impoverished whites mostly in the Southern states and District of Columbia. The records left by the bureau between 1865 and 1872 are the most extensive source for investigating the African American experience in the post-Civil War era. Among the records you will find, for example, the names, ages, and former occupations of freedmen and names and residences of former owners as well as marriage registers that provide the names, addresses, ages, and complexions of husbands and wives and their children.  There are three sets of records for you to search that include: 1) Commissioner’s records, 2) Superintendent of Education, 3) Field office records which are the most valuable for genealogy. To find records do a Google search on “The Freedmen’s Bureau Records.”

1870 use
Learn how to use the census to effectively find generations of family.  Use the information and clues provided to build out your family tree and expand your research. I have provided a comprehensive review of each question that includes research insights, tips and tricks, and must know information to aid your research.

  • Location and Dwelling number (Col. 1 -2). We are provided with the city/town/village/borough, county, and state where the family resides. This can help in defining geographic areas to search for family and records.
    • Counted in order. The dwelling was the number of houses that were counted.
    • Societies. Search for a historical and/or genealogical society in the county to learn about community, records developed at the time you family lived in the area, connect with other genealogists who are researching the same surname, groups (i.e., church) to which your family belonged.
    • Modern day repositories. Use the location to identify locations of modern day record repositories that are near the place you family lived (e.g., historical societies, genealogical societies, libraries, archives, court houses.)
  • Family Number (Col. 3). This  was the  actual number of families counted.
    • Order of household visited. The census is recorded in the order of households visited. Take special note of the dwelling location versus the family number. For example, you could have dwelling 1 and dwelling 2, but for dwelling two you could have families 2, 3 and 4 living in the dwelling 2.  This could be an apartment building or several families living in the same home.  If you have people living in the same building, we need to be asking how they are related.
    • Circle of influence. You can begin to build the circle of influence for your ancestors by seeing who the neighbors were.
    • Search the neighbors. Often neighbors move with neighbors.  Are they the same family? Members of the same congregation? Friends?  If you can’t follow family or find the family in the census, see if you can follow neighbors. Are the given names similar among the neighbors and your family? Similar names run in families.  This might be a clue that they are more than just neighbors. It has been my experience that neighbors, even when they don’t share the same name are related.  Look for the neighbors being the wife’s parents, sister of the husband, siblings of the wife, aunts and uncles and so forth.  When I couldn’t find my ancestors in location, I have searched on the names of know neighbors to find my family. Make sure you include the names of neighbors in your family profile.
  • Composition of the family (Col. 4). Provides members of the household by name.
    • As of June 1870.  List the persons who lived in the home as of June 1870.
    • Individual names. Individual names for those in the household.
    • Important enumerator instructions. The enumerator was given the following instructions: “The names are to be written, beginning with the father and mother; or if either, or both, be dead, begin with some other ostensible head of the family; to be followed, as far as practicable, with the name of the oldest child residing at home, then the next oldest, and so on to the youngest, then the other inmates, lodgers and borders, laborers, domestics, and servants.”
    • Relationships not provided. You will need to use other records to help make associations. Do not make assumptions about the relationships.
    • Death or birth after June 1, 1870. Individuals who died or children were not included who were born after June 1, 1870.
    • First census after Civil War. This is the first census after the U.S. Civil War which defines who lived and who were survivors after the war.
    • New family scenarios. Because of the extensive destruction of the war and migration of the people, you will find families scattered and redefined because of the war.  For example, I have seen families who are 1) have not change living in the same place, 2) a mix of extended families (e.g., grandma grandpa, wife and children) because husband died 3) Mix of friends and neighbors helping other (two widows with children living together, 4) New families single soldiers marring, 5) Remarriages where a single mother marries and combines her family with another male.
    • First census after the migration during 1860’s. Special note about families during the 1860’s.
      • Migration. Migration during the war resulted from people moving to live with family/relatives because it was saver and far from the front lines, a place to live because there was no male to farm the land/farms were destroyed and some even followed their husbands from war zone to war zone.
      • Fresh start. You will also see many surviving soldiers wanting a fresh start.  Keep in mind that during the war the soldiers, many of whom had never left the county in which they lived, had chances to see new states and were willing to make a new live in the places they had seen.  So don’t be surprised to see your family in places you have never seen them before.
      • Daughters. It was common for families to send their daughter to live with other family, while married women tried to manage farms.
    • Moving in with family. If a woman lost her husband during the war, it was common for them to move back home with their father and mother.
      • Missing male.  If a male is present in the 1860 census and not in the 1870, it may be a clue that the person was a casualty of the Civil War.  See the category “Search military records,” and click on the article, “Civil War 1861-1865,” to learn about how to research and find records available for the war.
      • Remarriages. Because of the death of many spouses during the 1860’s, you will want to be on the lookout for remarriages between 1860-1870 censuses.  You might pick this up in the state census.
      • Search all lines. In the 1870 census I have made it a practice to search all family direct and related lines (e.g., siblings, aunts/uncles, friends, and neighbors) to reconnect families that were separated by the war.
    • Searching lost families. Important clues for searching lost families that you can’t find in the 1870 census:
      • See where individual was born. Look at the 1860 census to see where the family was born. This will be a good place to start your search, since many families (mother and children) moved back home to be with mom and dad or grandfather and grandmother.
      • Search female name and age. Searching on the female name and age rather than the known husbands first and last name.
      • Remarriage. Remember if her husband died and the woman remarried, she will have different last name.  Start your search in the county where they resided prior to the war.  Search every line of the census in that area.
      • Search for guardianship records. Make sure you also search court records for guardianship papers. If a father and/or husband were killed and the woman didn’t remarry there would most like be guardianship papers filed which can include notes on remarriage and moves.
      • Search for neighbors you seen in the 1860 census.  It is rare when I have not found the same neighbors being present from one census to the next.
      • Not included. I have had the chance to speak several genealogists who focus on the Southern states research who have share with me that there were many persons who lived but were omitted simply because they were on the move as with migration.
    • Courthouses burned. Many courthouses were burned during the Civil War loosing forever many records.  This makes the census records even more valuable for this time period.  Word of caution, if you hear that the courthouse where you ancestor lived was burned, you still need to check to see if records survive.  I have on two occasions found that my ancestor’s records were among the few that were saved.
    • African American research. This is the first census where those nameless persons on the slave schedules are now free and listed by name and age. The war had liberated nearly four million slaves and at the same time created the challenge of establishing a new social order based on freedom and racial equality.
      • See the video series: 25+ Introduction to African-American Genealogy Tutorials
      • Courthouse documents. Make it practices to extensively search every available document in the courthouse from purchasing, transferring of slaves, wills, and so forth to help reconstruct the family unit. I have seen where “carpetbaggers,” persons from the Northern states moved to the South to take advantage of the instability of the South. Many of these Northerners went out of their way to help freed slaves to register their real names and record land deeds.
      • Finding African American families when they changed surnames. Between 1865 and 1875, I have found that it was common for African American families to choose a different surname. If you suspect this happened to your family, try searching on the first name and ages to locate the family or searching on the neighbor’s surnames.
      • Check the Freedmen’s Bureau. Established in 1865 The Freedmen’s Bureau (the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands) provided assistance to thousands of former slaves and impoverished whites mostly in the Southern states and District of Columbia. The records left by the bureau between 1865 and 1872 are the most extensive source for investigating the African American experience in the post-Civil War era. Among the records you will find, for example, the names, ages, and former occupations of freedmen and names and residences of former owners as well as marriage registers that provide the names, addresses, ages, and complexions of husbands and wives and their children. There are three sets of records for you to search that include: 1) Commissioner’s records, 2) Superintendent of Education, 3) Field office records which are the most valuable for genealogy. To learn more about how to find and research these records, do a Google search on “The Freedmen’s Bureau Records.”
    • Follow family through the census. Make it a priority to follow your family through censuses during their lifetime (e.g., federal, state, territorial, and local censuses) as well as census schedules if they exist (e.g., population, agriculture, manufacturing, social statistics, crime, mortality, veterans, slave.) The following articles will provide you a detailed example of following a family through the census.  See the articles:
    • Searching the 1860 census. If you having a hard time finding you family in the 1860 census, remember the family you see in 1870 just experienced the destruction of the Civil War.  Many families were rebuilt through remarriages, combining of families, moving and so forth. Try searching for the neighbors that you see in the 1870 census. It is rare that I haven’t found the same people moving or living alongside my family when they have picked up and moved hundreds of miles. Also make sure you check other records present for the time period such as court, land, wills and probate records.
    • Check original census. Always seek to see the images of the original census to compare against the transcription.
    • Search same surname. Look closely at persons with the same surname. Could they be a relative? Does the individual show up as a child in earlier census?  Search other records such as deeds, wills to see if the person shows up. Could individuals be in-laws? Check marriages of the county for husbands of sisters, aunts, and mothers.
    • Research all persons in household. It will not be uncommon to find individuals living in the same household that have different surnames (last names).  As a practice, research all persons living in the household with your ancestors or in the home of siblings. There is usually a family connection. I have found it important to search for the surname several pages before and after the page where you find your family. This can also help in suggesting relationships between neighbors. Look for added clues such as given first names, occupations, places of origin.  When I contact the genealogical/historical societies, I have often sought to find the genealogists who are researching these surnames to compare research.
    • Extract all with same surname. Make it a practice to extract all the persons with the same surname living in the same county.  Are they family? They could be family connection or related connection such as where they came from.  If your family lives near a state our county border, go ahead and extract the persons with the same surnames from neighboring counties.  I have usually found important clues and connections among those with the same surname that has enhanced my research.
  • Age (Col. 5). This is not exact date of birth, but  it  will provide a “ballpark” number that you can use in the help you track the person in the next census and search for birth event records of the time period.
    • Children under age of 1. Children under the age of 1 were represented months as fractions such as 1/12.
    • Search other records. Few states during this period had vital records, but there are good changes that you may be able to look for church records. Start your search for these types of records at the genealogical/historical society.
    • Age gaps. Look at age gaps between children.  Is the age cap normal? For example, every two years.  Are the age gaps larger than expected? This could be a clue that there was another child or spouse that had passed away.  Look at age of husband and wife.  Are they about the same age? Is one spouse much older than the other?  If yes, this could be a clue that there is second marriage. Look at the ages of children and the place of birth.  This might provide clues of where the parents were married or from where the family migrated.
  • Color (Col. 7).  In this census there are more indication of color with the White (W), Indian (I) American Indian, Black (B), Chinese (C) included all east Asians,, Mulatto (M).  This information may be helpful in determining the persons origins.
  • Occupation (Col. 8). This indicates the person’s occupation and related information can help one search for employment records. Look carefully at the person’s occupation/trade and define what types of records that might exist.  I had an ancestor who was a merchant which led me to look for a business license, business/professional directory, ads for his business in the newspaper and related documents all of which I found. Another genealogist, had ancestor who was a member of the clergy which led them to search and find church records. If the person was a farmer, make sure you look at Schedule 4, “Agricultural Census” for more information about the family.
  • Value of real estate (Col. 9-10). This  will  help identify  records  you  can locate at the county recorder’s office or equivalent agency for deeds, mortgages, and property tax records.
    • Value of personal estates. Take note that this was the first time “value of personal estates” was asked.  There is evidence that when this question was asked that people may have hesitated to provide the exact answer because of the fear that they would be taxed based on the answer provided.
    • Courthouse records. If your ancestor lived in the South during 1870, make sure you check court records carefully. Many court battles exist to reclaim land that was confiscated during the war.  There is a good chance you will find where the family currently resides if they moved away and are fighting to get their property back.
  • Place of birth (Col. 11). If the person was born in the United States,the enumerator was to enter the state where they were born. If they were born outside the United States,  the enumerator would enter the native country. If the  person  was  born  within  the  state  they were being enumerated, the census taker might include the county or township. For the specific country of Germany, the enumerator  was to be more specific:  Baden, Prussia, Bavaria, Wurttemberg, Hessen-Darmstadt.
    • Narrow search. Use this information to narrow your search for records to geographic area even town. Also very helpful with clues to immigration and/or migration.
  • Foreign-born Parents (Col. 12-13).  This is the first census to ask if the parents were foreign-born.  The mark (y) means yes they are foreign-born. Even though we are not given the actual birthplace, we do have clue that they are immigrants.  Other records to check would include ships passenger lists, immigration lists and so forth.  Also be on the lookout for naturalization records.
  • Marital Status (Col. 15). This denotes if the individual was married within the year (i.e., June 2, 1869 to June 1, 1870.)  It will provide clues for looking for marriage event records of the time period.  Because the person could have been married at any time during that year, make it a practice to also look for school records for the individuals also.
  • Education (Col. 16). This identifies if the person had gone to school within the year (i.e., June 2, 1869 to June 1, 1870.) This will provide clues to look for school records that can associate children with parents.  Look for records such as school census.
  • Read and write (Col. 17). Use this information to confirm that you have the right person when searching other records. For example, you are searching wills of individuals with the same name of as your ancestor. The census records said that your ancestor could read and write. You find the wills of two persons with the same name. One marked his will with an X the other signed his name on the will.  The person using the X most likely couldn’t read or write. Since you are looking for a person who could read and write, the X should raise caution flags that this person may not be the person you are looking for.
  •  Whether deaf & dumb, blind, insane, idiotic, pauper or convict (Col. 18). Do not overlook this category. Insane could lead to institutional and/or guardianship records; convict could finding court and/or jail records.
  • Male Citizenship over 21 with right to vote (Col. 20).  This question, asked only of me, is first time for the question about whether the person has the right to vote.  Use this clue to research other records such as voter rolls, deed records and so forth.

1870 schedules
The 1870 census included the population and several other schedules taken usually at the same time. There are resources online and in print that provide more detail on these schedules and how to use them in genealogy research.  I always suggest that you check these schedules. They include:

  • Industry/Manufacturing Schedule. Provides information on businesses and industries for the year (i.e., June 2, 1869 to June 1, 1870).  Manufactures that were household based were not included. The information collected focused on the products of the industry such as mining, fisheries, mercantile, commercial and trading businesses. The census taker included the name of the company/owner, kind of business, amount invested, quantity and value of materials, labor, machinery and products. These schedules are valuable because they many document businessmen and merchants who do not appear in the land records.
  • Mortality Schedule. Provides information about persons who died during the twelve months prior to the census (i.e., June 2, 1869 to June 1, 1870). It collected the following information: name, age, sex, color, and place of birth, marital status, profession, occupation/trade, month of death, disease or cause of death, number of days ill and remarks. In 1870 a place for parents’ birthplaces was added. In 1880, the place where a disease was contracted, how long the deceased person was a citizen or resident and included fractions (e.g. 1/12) if less than a year.  Use the information to research other records such as obituaries, mortuary records, cemeteries, and probate records.
  • Agricultural Schedule. Provides data on farms and the names of the farmers for the year (i.e., June 2, 1869 to June 1, 1870). Farm information focused on agricultural production.  In 1870 and 1880 farms of less than three acres or which produced less than $500 worth of products were not included. Use the information to
    • Fill in gaps with land and tax records are missing
    • Distinguish between individuals with the same surnames
    • Document land ownership and search related records such as deeds, mortgages, tax rolls and probate inventories.
    • Verify and document sharecroppers (e.g., African American) and their overseers not listed in any other records.
    • Identify free men of color and their property holdings.
    • Trace migration and economic growth.
  • Social Statistics Schedule. Includes information about the following topics:  valuation of real estate; annual taxes; colleges, academies, and schools; seasons and crops; libraries; newspapers and periodicals; religion; pauperism; crime; and wages. These schedules are valuable because they many document businessmen and merchants  who  do  not appear in the land records. For example,
    • Cemeteries.  You will have a listing of the cemeteries (i.e., names, addresses, descriptions, procedures for interment) with the city boundaries along with maps pin pointing their locations. You will also find lists of cemeteries that are no longer open and why.
    • Trade societies, lodges and clubs. You find their names, addresses, and officers.
    • Churches. You will find a brief history, overview of doctrine and policies and statistical list of members.

1870 military
Even though there is no information in the 1870 census that identifying veterans of war, there are still men living who served in one or more military wars and conflicts.  The records available for these men vary but can yield important clues and knowledge about the veteran and his family.

  • Pension applications. Search for pension applications and records of pension payments for veterans, their widows, and other heirs. The pension applications usually provide the most information and can include supporting documents such as marriage, birth, and dead records/certificates, pages from family Bibles, family letters, dispositions of witnesses, affidavits, discharge papers and other supporting documents. Even if you ancestor did not receive a pension, look to see if his pension request was denied.
  • Bounty lands. Bounty land applications also are related wartime service. The federal government provided bounty land for those who served in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, and Indian wars between 1775 and 1855. Bounty lands were offered as incentive to serve and as a reward for service. Bounty land was claimed by veterans or their heirs.

Search for these military records:

Early Indian Wars 1815-1858. Look for military records of men serving in the Early Indian Wars who are between the ages of 35 and 90+ in the 1870 census. These men would have been born prior to 1835.See the article:

Mexican War 1846-1848. Look for military records of men serving in the Mexican Wars who are between the ages of 37-85+ in the 1870 census.  These men would have been born prior to 1832. See the article:

Civil War 1861-1865. Civil War 1861-1865. Look for military records of men who would be serving in the U.S. Civil War who are between the ages of 20 and 70 in the 1870 census.  These men would have been born in 1850 and earlier.  Keep in mind that many young men lied about their age and served with their father, brother (s), or other family members.  If your ancestor lived in the Union or Confederate states that they served in their army.  If your ancestor lived in the Union or Confederate states that they served in their army.  Many men who were in the Union served in the Confederacy. And there are many men from the South that served in the Union Army. Make sure that you search for all male members of the family (i.e., father, sons, brothers, uncles, and nephews.)  The Civil War enlistment card will give you clues of your ancestors’ location and place of residence. See the articles:

Researching military headstones. Military headstones have evolved through time. See the following articles for details:

1870 defining
A census is a government-sponsored enumeration of the population in a particular area and contains a variety of information — names, heads of household (or all household members), ages, citizenship status, ethnic background, and so on. Here are some different types of census records you are likely to come across in your research.

U.S. federal census is also called a population schedule. Federal census records provide the building blocks of your research, allowing you to both confirm information and to learn more. Compiled in the United States for every decade since 1790, census population schedules are comprehensive, detailed records of the federal government’s decennial survey of American households. Information from the schedules is used by the federal government for demographic analysis.

The schedules themselves, of interest primarily to genealogists, contain the personal information of the survey respondents. To protect the privacy of the people whose names appear in each schedule, census records are restricted for 72 years after the census is taken and are not available to researchers during that time.

1870 uses
I’ve effectively used the 1870 census to conduct find and use the following information:

  • Identify members of household by name
  • Identify ages of individuals by name
  • Begin to establish family relationships (e.g., spouse, children, siblings, parents)
  • Identify who is missing (perhaps a Civil War casualty)
  • Identify people of color: White (W), Indian (I) American Indian, Black (B), Chinese (C) included all east Asians, Mulatto (M)
  • Build first family scenario for Freedmen of color
  • Begin to identify possible remarriages and step relationships
  • Identify parent of foreign birth
  • Locate and identify birthplaces
  • Identify occupations
  • Locate and identify real estate
  • Find information in various schedules that include: Population, agriculture, industry and mortality
  • Locate and identify family who are neighbors
  • Identify spelling variations
  • Locate and identify family in other census substitute records (e.g., probate inventories, tax lists)
  • Locate and identify children not yet known
  • Locate and identify possible parents
  • Locate and identify possible children not listed in later censuses
  • Differentiate between families of the same name
  • Locate and identify possible neighbors who might be family

1870 questions 2
The following are the questions found in the 1870 United States Census.

Col. 1: Line No. on Page
Col. 2: Dwelling house No.

Col. 3: Family No.

Col. 4: Name of every person whose usual place of abode on the first day of June, 1870, was in this family

Col. 5: Age last birthday
Col. 6: Sex
Col. 7: Color

  • White (W)
  • Black (B)
  • Mulatto (M)
  • Chinese (C)
  • Indian (I)

Col. 8: Profession, Occupation, or Trade of each person, male or female

Col. 9: Value of Real Estate owned
Col. 10: Value of Personal Estate

Col. 11: Place of birth

Col. 12: Father was Foreign born
Col. 13: Mother was Foreign born

Col. 14: Month if born within census year
Col. 15: Month if married within census year

Col. 16: Attended School within the year
Col. 17: Cannot read/Cannot write
Col. 18: Whether deaf and dumb, blind, insane, idiotic

Col. 19: Male citizen 21 years & up
Col. 20: Make citizen 21 with right to vote