Census and population records have long been a vital component of genealogy research. Those of us researching the U.S. have come to count on the decennial federal census to provide a generous amount of information about our ancestors, even if it is not always as accurate as we’d like.
And (aside from the 1890 census that was destroyed in an unfortunate and somewhat mysterious series of events) these records are easily accessible online and widely used. But there is federal census that most family historians have never even heard of, and it happens to provide information on a key period of time in America’s history.
In 1879 the U.S. government asked states to take a semi-decennial census in 1885 – in addition to the upcoming 1880 and 1890 censuses – with the promise that they would cover 50% of the costs of the undertaking.
The states of Nebraska, Florida and Colorado completed the request, along with the territories of New Mexico and Dakota. These census schedules include a wealth of information for those who may have had ancestors in those regions in 1885 and are one way to overcome the gap left by the 1890 census.
Here’s a look at an 1885 census schedule from Florida to give you an idea of what is included. The other states and territories who conducted these federally requested schedules used the same form seen below, providing consistency from region to region.
The great news is that these schedules are available free online. We’ve included a link for each state and territory collection below so that you will have easy access to these valuable records.
- Colorado State Census 1885
- Nebraska State Census 1885
- Florida State Census 1885
- New Mexico Territorial Census 1885
- Dakota Territory, Northern portion, 1885 Census This is an Ancestry paid collection. The records are not available online for free.
- Dakota Territory, Southern portion, 1885 Census This is an Ancestry paid collection. The records are not available online for free.
- You can also search the Dakota Territory records online and order a copy from the North Dakota State University here.
Mortality Schedules for the 1885 Federal Census
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In addition to the population schedules that were conducted in 1885, mortality schedules were also completed and can be (in some cases) found with the populations schedules in the collections above. You can also find a detailed index of the mortality schedules online for free via Ancestry (actual record access comes at a cost). Get the details about what these records are and how to access them here.
Other 1885 State Census Options
Other states also conducted a state census in 1885, such as Minnesota, but these were not federally funded and the forms used (and information included) were not consistent from state to state. Despite this, they provide a highly valuable resource for family historians. You can find most of them online for free via FamilySearch by visiting this page and searching for 1885 or State Census 1885. You can read more about state census records here.
You can also learn more about the 1885 Federal Census in Prologue Magazine from the National Archives.
For more information on overcoming the gap left by the 1890 Census check out these helpful articles:
Image: Coburg, Nebraska Territory, 1884 or 1885, Library of Congress
By Melanie May0, Family History Daily Editor