1880 Census Instructions to Enumerators

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Instructions to Enumerators
(Duties of Enumerators)

It is by law made the duty of each enumerator, after being duly qualified as above to visit personally each dwelling in his subdivision, and each family therein, and each individual living out of a family in any place of abode, and by inquiry made of the head of such family, or of the member thereof deemed most credible and worthy of trust, or of such individual living out of a family, to obtain each and every item of information and all the particulars required by the act of March 3, 1879, as amended by act of April 20, 1880.

By individuals living out of families is meant all persons occupying lofts in public buildings, above stores, warehouses, factories, and stables, having no other usual place of abode; persons living solitary in cabins, huts, or tents; persons sleeping on river boats, canal boats, barges, etc., having no other usual place of abode, and persons in police stations having no homes. Of the classes just mentioned, the most important, numerically, is the first, viz: those persons, chiefly in cities, who occupy rooms in public buildings, or above stores, warehouses, factories, and stables. In order to reach such persons, the enumerator will need not only to keep his eyes open to all indications of such casual residence in his enumeration district, but to make inquiry both of the parties occupying the business portion of such buildings and also of the police. A letter will be addressed from this office to the mayor of every large city of the United States, requesting the cooperation of the police, so far as it may be necessary to prevent the omission of the classes of persons herein indicated.

It is further provided by law that in case no person shall be found at the usual place of abode of such family, or individual living out of a family, competent to answer the inquiries made in compliance with the requirements of the act, then it shall be lawful for the enumerator to obtain the required information, as nearly as may be practicable, from the family or families, or person or persons, living nearest to such place of abode.

It is the prime object of the enumeration to obtain the name, and the requisite particulars as to personal descriptions, of every person in the United States, of whatever age, sex, color, race, or condition, with this single exception, viz: that ‘‘Indians not taxed’’ shall be omitted from the enumeration.


By the phrase ‘‘Indians not taxed’’ is meant Indians living on reservations under the care of Government agents, or roaming individually, or in bands, over unsettled tracts of country.

Indians not in tribal relations, whether full-bloods or half-breeds, who are found mingled with the white population, residing in white families, engaged as servants or laborers, or living in huts or wigwams on the outskirts of towns or settlements are to be regarded as a part of the ordinary population of the country for the constitutional purpose of the apportionment of Representatives among the states, and are to be embraced in the enumeration.


All soldiers of the United States Army, and civilian employees, and other residents at posts or on military reservations will be enumerated in the district in which they reside, equally, with other elements of the population.


It is the duty of an enumerator, in the exercise of his authority to visit houses and interrogate members of families resident therein as provided by law, to use great courtesy and consideration. A rude peremptory, or overbearing demeanor would not only be a wrong to the families visited, but would work an injury to the census by rendering the members of those families less disposed to give information with fullness and exactness. It would doubtless be found in the long run to be an injury to the enumerator himself and to retard his work.

By the above remark it is not intended to imply that the enumerator need enter into prolix explanations, or give time to anything beyond the strictly necessary work of interrogation. It is entirely possible for the enumerator to be prompt, rapid, and decisive in announcing his object and his authority, and in going through the whole list of questions to be proposed, and at the same time not to arouse any antagonism or give any offense.


It is not within the choice of any inhabitant of the United States whether he shall or shall not communicate the information required by the census law. By the fourteenth section of the act approved March 3, 1879, it is provided:

‘‘That each and every person more than 20 years of age, belonging to any family residing in any enumeration district, and in case of the absence of the heads and other members of any such family, then any agent of such family, shall be, and each of them hereby is, required, if thereto requested by the superintendent, supervisor, or enumerator, to render a true account, to the best of his or her knowledge, of every person belonging to such family in the various particulars required by law, and whoever shall willfully fail or refuse shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and upon conviction thereof shall forfeit and pay a sum not exceeding one hundred dollars.’’

Enumerators will, however, do well not unnecessarily to obtrude the compulsory feature of the enumeration. It will be found in the vast majority of cases that the persons called upon to give information will do so without objection or delay. No people in the world are so favorably disposed toward the work of the census as the people of the United States. With the high degree of popular intelligence here existing, the importance of statistical information is very generally appreciated; and if the enumerator enters upon his work in a right spirit, he will generally meet with a favorable and even cordial response.

It is only where information required by law is refused that the penalties for noncompliance need be adverted to. The enumerator will then quietly, but firmly, point out the consequences of persistency in refusal. It will be instructive to note that at the census of 1870 the agents of the census in only two or three instances throughout the whole United States found it necessary to resort to the courts for the enforcement of the obligation to give information as required by the census act.

It is further to be noted that the enumerator is not required to accept answers which he knows, or has reason to believe, are false. He has a right to a true statement on every matter respecting which he is bound to inquire; and he is not concluded by a false statement. Should any person persist in making statements which are obviously erroneous, the enumerator should enter upon the schedule the facts as nearly as he can ascertain them by his own observation or by inquiry of credible persons.

The foregoing remark is of special importance with reference to the statements of the heads of families respecting afflicted members of their households. The law requires a return in the case of each blind, deaf and dumb, insane or idiotic, or crippled person. It not infrequently happens that fathers and mothers, especially the latter, are disposed to conceal, or even to deny, the existence of such infirmities on the part of children. In such cases, if the fact is personally known to the enumerator, or shall be ascertained by inquiry from neighbors, it should be entered on the schedules equally as if obtained from the head of the family.

A second class of cases under this head concerns the reporting of the values produced in agricultural or other occupations. The enumerator is not bound by any statement which he knows or has reason to believe to be false. His duty is to report the actual facts as nearly as he can ascertain them.

The enumerator is prohibited by law from delegating to any other person his authority to enter dwellings and to interrogate their inhabitants. The work of enumeration must be done by the enumerator in person, and can not be performed by proxy.


This is the population or family schedule. Upon it is to be entered, as previously noted, the name of every man, woman, and child, who, on the 1 st day of June, 1880, shall have his or her ‘‘usual place of abode’’ within the enumerator’s districts . No child born between the 1 st day of June, 1880, and the day of the enumerator’s visit (say June 5 or 15 or 25) is to be entered upon the schedule. On the other hand, every person who was a resident of the district upon the 1 st day of June, 1880, but between that date and the day of the enumerator’s visit shall have died, should be entered on the schedule precisely as if still living. The object of the schedule is to obtain a list of the inhabitants on the 1st day of June, 1880, and all changes after that date, whether in the nature of gain or of loss, are to be disregarded in the enumeration.


In column No. 1 of this schedule is to be entered the number of the dwelling house in the order of visitation. A dwelling house, for the purpose of the census, means any building or place of abode, of whatever character, material, or structure, in which a person is at the time living, whether in a room above a warehouse or factory, a loft above a stable or a wigwam on the outskirts of a settlement, equally with a dwelling house in the usual, ordinary sense of that term. Wholly uninhabited dwellings are not to be taken notice of.


In the column numbered 2 is to be entered the number, in the order of visitation, of each family residing in the district. The word family, for the purposes of the census, includes persons living alone, as previously described, equally with families in the ordinary sense of that term, and also all larger aggregations of people having only the tie of a common roof and table. A hotel, with all its inmates, constitutes but one family within the meaning of this term. A hospital, prison, an asylum is equally a family for the purposes of the census. On the other hand, the solitary inmate of a cabin, a loft, or a room finished off above a store constitutes a family in the meaning of the census act. In the case, however, of tenement houses and of the so-called ‘‘flats’’ of the great cities, as many families are to be recorded as there are separate tables.


In column numbered 3 is to be entered the name of every person whose ‘‘usual place of abode’’ on the 1 st day of June, 1880, was in that family.

The census law furnishes no definition of the phrase, ‘‘usual place of abode,’’ and it is difficult, under the American system of a protracted enumeration, to afford administrative directions which will wholly obviate the danger that some persons will be reported in two places and others not reported at all. Much must be left to the judgment of the enumerator, who can, if he will take the pains, in the great majority of instances satisfy himself as to the propriety of including or not including doubtful cases in his enumeration of any given family. In the cases of boarders at hotels or students at schools or colleges, the enumerator can, by one or two well directed inquiries, ascertain whether the person concerning whom the question may arise has, at the time, any other place of abode within another district at which he is likely to be reported. Seafaring men are to be reported at their land homes, no matter how long they may have been absent, if they are supposed to be still alive. Hence, sailors temporarily at a sailors’ boarding or lodging house, if they acknowledge any other home within the United States, are not to be included in the family of the lodging or boarding house. Persons engaged in internal transportation, canal men, express men, railroad men, etc., if they habitually return to their homes in the intervals of their occupations, will be reported as of their families, and not where they may be temporarily staying on the 1 st of June, 1880.

In entering names in column 3, the name of the father, mother, or other ostensible head of the family (in the case of hotels, jails, etc., the landlord, jailer, etc.) is to be entered first of the family. The family name is to be written first in the column, and the full first or characteristic Christian or ‘‘given’’ name of each member of the family in order thereafter. It is desirable that the children of the family proper should follow in the order of their ages, as will naturally be the case. So long as the family name remains the same for the several members, it need not be repeated, provided a distinct horizontal line or dash be drawn in the place it would occupy, thus:

Smith, John.
_____, Elizabeth.
_____, J. Henry.

Personal Description

The columns 4, 5, and 6, which relate to age, sex, and color, must in every case be filled. No returns will be accepted where these spaces are left blank.

Ages.—The exact age in figures will be inserted in column 6 whenever the same can be obtained; otherwise, the nearest approximation thereto. Children who, on the 1 st of June, 1880, were less than a year old, will have their age stated by the fractional part of the year, as (1 month), 1/12; (3 months), 3/12; (9 months), 9/12, etc. In all other cases months will be omitted.

Color.—It must not be assumed that, where nothing is written in this column, ‘‘white’’ is to be understood. The column is always to be filled. Be particularly careful in reporting the class mulatto. The word is here generic, and includes quadroons, octoroons, and all persons having any perceptible trace of African blood. Important scientific results depend upon the correct determination of this class in schedules 1 and 5.


In the column number 13 is to be reported the occupation of each person 10 years of age and upward. (See instructions for 1870, col. 7.)


Column 24 will contain the ‘‘Place of birth’’ of every person named upon the schedule. If born within the United States, the State or Territory will be named, whether it be the State or Territory in which the person is at present residing or not. If of foreign birth, the country will be named as specifically as possible. Instead of writing ‘‘Great Britain’’ as the place of birth, give the particular country, as England, Scotland, Wales. Instead of ‘‘Germany,’’ specify the State, as Prussia, Baden, Bavaria, Wurttemburg, Hesse, Darmstadt, etc.

U.S. Census Bureau Source: Measuring America: The Decennial Censuses From 1790 to 2000
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