The Forgotten Federal Census of 1885 Can Be Found Online for Free

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.

Make Instant Discoveries in Your Family Tree Now
Imagine adding your family tree to a simple website and getting hundreds of new family history discoveries instantly.

MyHeritage is offering 2 free weeks of access to their extensive collection of 18 billion historical records, as well as their matching technology that instantly connects you with new information about your ancestors. Sign up using the link below to find out what you can uncover about your family.

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.

Mortality Schedules for the 1885 Federal Census

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 1885You 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.

18 Billion Genealogy Records Are Free for 2 Weeks
Get two full weeks of free access to more than 18 billion genealogy records right now. You’ll also gain access to the MyHeritage discoveries tool that locates information about your ancestors automatically when you upload or create a tree. What will you discover about your family’s past?

For more information on overcoming the gap left by the 1890 Census check out these helpful articles:


The Ultimate Quick Reference Guide to the U.S. Census for Genealogy

Thousands of 1890 Census Records DO Still Exist: Here’s How to Find Them for Free

This Underused Resource May Have the Family History Details You’ve Been Looking For

Image: Coburg, Nebraska Territory, 1884 or 1885, Library of Congress

By Melanie May0, Family History Daily Editor

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Send this to a friend