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From the News column in the December 2002 Perspectives

New Online Database Makes Census Research Easier

Debbie Ann Doyle, December 2002

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which operates the Family History Library at its Salt Lake City headquarters and 3,700 branch family history centers nationwide, announced at an October 23 press conference the launch of an online, searchable database of information from the U.S. Census of 1880, the 1881 Canadian Census, and the 1881 British Census. The database considerably simplifies census research for this period, which previously required scanning reels of microfilmed copies of the original manuscript documents. The free database is available at www.familysearch.org, and further enriches the resources made available by what is arguably the largest family history and genealogy archive in the world.

The database is designed to facilitate genealogical research, but will also prove useful to historians, teachers, and students. Search results include National Archives and Family History Library reference numbers guiding researchers to microfilm of the original manuscript census. Individual records include all data recorded in the manuscript census, such as the name, occupation, age, gender, race, marital status, and birthplace of each individual residing at a particular address. The 1880 census was the first to include each individual's relationship to the head of household as well as the birthplace of parents. Links enable researchers to access census data on neighboring households.

Researchers can limit a search by state, county, and town of residence; age or age range; race; and birthplace. However, searches require a first or last name; so, for example, researchers cannot retrieve data on all persons of Irish descent living in a particular town in 1880.

Church volunteers spent 17 years transcribing the original census data. Historians and graduate students at the Minnesota Population Center at the University of Minnesota and the Institute of Canadian Studies at the University of Ottawa, working in partnership with the church's family and church history department, organized the data and standardized names and localities.

Senator Orrin Hatch (R–Utah), sponsor of a Senate resolution making October "Family History Month," joined Elder M. Russell Ballard, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; Preston Jay Waite, chief operating officer for the decennial census at the U.S. Census Bureau; and Richard E. Turley Jr., managing director of the family and church history department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to announce the completion of the massive project.

According to Elder Ballard, the church's genealogy web site receives 7 million hits a day and family history research is "one of the most popular uses of the Internet." Senator Hatch noted, "With more than 80 million Americans actively searching for more information about their ancestors, family history research has become our nation's second most popular hobby." Calling the database a vital record of the "humble, decent people . . . who helped to build this country," Hatch asked, "What better way to bring families closer together than by discovering more about the story of their own family? Like it or not, who we are today is in large part a product of our ancestors."

—Debbie Ann Doyle is executive assistant and convention assistant at the AHA and also staffs the AHA's Task Force on Public History.