The 1870 U.S. federal census is a gateway document for family research. For years, it was one of the few census documents freely available online. It was the first to identify male U.S. citizens, and people with foreign-born parents, crucial information for those researching 19th century immigrant ancestors.
Importantly, the 1870 U.S. federal census was the first to identify formerly enslaved people by name. As such, it is key to the 10 Million Names project, an ambitious effort to recover the names and stories of the estimated 10 million women, men, and children of African descent who were enslaved here from the early 1600s to 1865. Quoting project historian Kendra Taira Field, PhD:
“This lasting legacy of slavery — the erasure of family history — remains with us today. So, while those Americans attempting to claim Mayflower ancestry have had extensive records to consult, African Americans who have been collecting their family histories and genealogies for centuries have not generally had easy access to collective repositories of genealogical data.”
A core focus of 10 Million Names is documenting family stories and oral history. But the 1870 census also plays a central role, as it’s often the earliest government document to record the names of people who were once enslaved as well as their places of birth. This blog post about Prince Ailes & Lewis Carter gives two brief case studies involving the 1870 census.
EasyGenie's 1870 census tracker
Four years ago, EasyGenie released a printed census tracker for the 1870 census, to help overcome the limitations of the online images:
- Scans of the 1870 documents contain dozens of people on each page.
- Handwriting and image quality are inconsistent.
- Transcriptions provided by online services are often wrong, leading to search errors, misspelled names, and incorrect facts.
- The forms have to be rotated to read column headings.
Sales of the printed forms were limited, so we withdrew them from sale. But after reading about the 10 Million Names project, and recognizing that the census tracker could serve as a useful tool in the effort, we decided to reintroduce the EasyGenie 1870 census tracker as a free download. We also made the PDF fillable so people can type into it using the free Adobe Acrobat Reader app on a PC or Mac. An instructional video below shows how.
Feel free to share the link to the free census tracker PDF. Anyone whose ancestors appeared in the 1870 census can use this fillable PDF, or print out copies to fill in by hand. It’s completely free from the EasyGenie website – make as many copies as you need for personal use.