The 1870 Federal Census’s Second Enumeration

By all reports, the 1870 federal census was a mess. It was the last census for which U.S. Marshals were used as census takers. As there weren’t enough Marshals, a number of men were made Assistant Marshals for the purpose, many of whom were Northerners who were said to be only semi-literate. Their lack of qualifications were blamed for leading to errors and fraud, ultimately culminating in undercounting the South by an estimated 10%.

In the North, three cities thought themselves significantly undercounted. They also complained that the census takers had not recorded street addresses, leaving no way to confirm that all addresses and families had been recorded. Their complaints were loud enough to elicit an order from President Grant to conduct a second enumeration for New York City, Philadelphia, and Indianapolis, the first, second, and twenty-seventh largest cities in the nation in 1870. For those three cities, both enumerations were retained and are available for research.[1]

Take, for example, Sarah Wilkins of Philadelphia. She was first enumerated 22 June 1870, when she was located in the 4th Ward. No more specific location is given for her. She was 54, black, had $6,000 in real estate and $700 in personal estate. Included in her household were Sarah, 14, mulatto, and Mary, 18, mulatto. All three were hairdressers born in Pennsylvania.[2]

Sarah Wilkins was enumerated again 15 November 1870, when she was located more specifically at 610 Pine Street in the 14th Division of the 5th Ward. She was 60 and colored. Included in her (apparent) household was only Sarah, 15, colored. Nine others were enumerated at the same address, but this enumeration did not separate multiple families living within a single dwelling. It also did not include personal information other than name, age, race, and gender.[3] In New York City, they added occupation and birth place to the second enumeration, but no more.

Only NGS members have access to full articles of NGS Monthly. Please log in or click here to learn more about joining the National Genealogical Society.

If you have trouble logging on or accessing the articles, please contact [email protected]

  1. May 6, 2020 1:42 pm
  2. May 7, 2020 12:55 pm
  3. July 18, 2020 6:01 pm
  4. August 10, 2020 8:19 am

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.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