The excitement was high. The audience, mostly genealogists and descendants from famous historic families, sat on pins and needles.
It was like a new discovery. A new view into American history. With the click of the mouse came an opportunity for African Americans especially to find their ancestors.
Last week the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints unveiled their latest attempt to help families re-connect. They have finished an 11-year project which took 12 million man-hours to put the 1880 U.S., Canadian and British census on line under the www.familysearch.org website.
This is the second time African Americans have this information. The first time was 2-years ago when the Freedman Bank records were released.
During the simulcast in Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, Chicago and New York, church leaders spoke of the meaning of this accomplishment.
This is the first online census database to include former slaves and the second U.S. census to record African Americans as individuals rather than property.
"The 1880 U.S. Census is about people becoming persons," said Blair Poelman, a reference specialist at the Family History Library of the Church. "For almost the first time, people of certain ethnic origins are being seen as individuals, with their individual names and identities noted in the census. For some it was the beginning of a struggle for individual rights and recognition."
Users of the database can limit a search according to several race categories: Asian, Black, Mulatto, Mexican, Native American and White.
The benefit of the database to many African Americans who are researching their roots is significant.
"There is no other online database I am aware of that provides nearly every African American descendant of a former slave in history with such an extremely high chance of locating his or her family, says Paul Smart, outreach manager of the Family and Church History Department.
Prior to the end of the Civil War less than two decades earlier, information needed to identify slaves names and other vital information was seldom listed on federal censuses, says Tim Bingman, a research specialist in the Family History Library. Federal slave records at times only included the number of slaves an owner possessed, and not names.
The 1880 U.S. Census includes information never before asked in a census such as the relationship of individuals in the home to the head of household, and the birthplace of parents. Other information includes: age, gender, race, martial, status, birthplace and occupation.
In 1880, there were only two races in America: White (86%) and Black (13%). All other races, including Indians, were 0.3 percent of the total population.
"The 1880 census is the most important pre-1900 census for African American genealogy after slavery was abolished," says Larry Piatt, a collections and development specialist at the Family History Library.
One dynamic that makes the census significant, he said, is that the 1890 census was destroyed by fire leaving a 20 year gap until the 1900 census.
Of the census nearly 50.5 million names, 6,580,793 Blacks and mulatto individuals are listed. The names of 100,000 Asians Americans, 66,000 Native Americans and more than 10,000 Mexicans are included in the census. Most Native Americans were living on reservations under the care of government agents, and were not normally enumerated. The ones who were counted were found mingling with the White population, residing in White families, engaged as servants or laborers, or living in wigwams on the outskirts of towns and settlements that were regarded as part of the ordinary population of the country.
Some of the famous names youll find are: Booker T. Washington, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Isabella Van Wagener (Sojourner Truth), Frederick Douglass, and Biddy Mason, founder of First AME in Los Angeles, as well as Pio Pico, the first Governor of California before it became a state. in the union. Pico was Black.
Participating in the event was the last living relative of Pio Pico. He was on hand to honor the memory of his great- great- great -grandfather. Others were the ancestors of the founders of Los Angeles over 40% were of African heritage.
The 1880 Census was the second that attempted to list all African Americans by name, the 1870 census was the first.
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