What Can You Learn From The 1870 Census Records?

Having American Civil War ancestors can really enrich your family history. Finding out though what they were doing after the war can also be interesting reading. The 1870 census records can give you an insight into their lives after the events of the war.

1870 Census Records

So, please read on as I will explain to you what you can discover from these records.

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What’s In These Records?

The 1870 census records was a vast improvement on the two earlier records of 1850 and 1860 as even more questions were added to the form.

1870 Census Records Blank Form

* Please visit National Archives for full blank form *

Again information was collected beginning on June 1st and lasting for five months.

Even more questions added!

You will learn a lot more about your ancestor from these census records as opposed to earlier ones as I will discuss below.

One thing though that you will need to be mindful of is that no relationships between the head of the household and the other individuals were added.

So, be careful if you see other people with the same surname listed within the same household.

For example, you may see a female with the same surname as your ancestor and of similar age.

You may deduce from this that this person was your ancestor’s partner. But instead it could be possible that they were their sister. Later census records will help you to find the truth.

If you cannot find your ancestor then it maybe possible that they were a casualty of the American Civil War.

Another possible reason is that they were quite simply missed when it came to this census record. This has been said for this occasion.

The 15 elements of the 1870 census records!


There are a couple of tips that I can share with you to help you find your elusive ancestor.

If you are having trouble finding an ancestor why not try alternative spellings of their name.

I have had great luck using this trick. I have found ancestors with surnames spelt as ‘Cooch’ and ‘Cauch’. This is even though my surname is spelt Couch.

Also, you could try entering the initials of your ancestor in the search engine when trying to find them.


You can greatly narrow down your search if you know the date of birth of your ancestor.

Please be mindful though when you see the answer for this element of the form.

Mistakes can occur, especially when someone can’t remember their age.

I know that sometimes I have to stop and think.

For anyone who was over one year of age their age at their last birthday was recorded. If the child was less than a year old then the month of their birth was entered, (in a later question on the form).

This can greatly help you to pinpoint when your ancestor was born, (that is if they were born within a year of the census).


Obviously you will know the sex of the ancestor that you are looking for. But if you have found an ancestor that you didn’t know about and their name is illegible on the form then this element of the form can help you.

Sometimes it can be quite a headache to read census records when the enumerator had fancy handwriting.

And when these forms have been uploaded to the Internet it is well worth checking the original document as errors do creep in that way.


Knowing the color of your ancestor can help you to further track down other records for your ancestor.

Two more options had been added for this question since the two previous census records, them being Chinese and Indian.

Possible answers included: White (W); Black (B); Chinese (C); Indian; or Mulatto (M).

Profession, Occupation, Trade

Finding out what your ancestor did for a living can really help you to know your ancestor more.


The real bonus with this question was in previous census records only occupations of males aged over 15 were recorded on the form.

From 1870 females were able to add their occupations as well.

Value of real estate and value of personal estate

You really must treat these two elements of the census records with a grain of salt.

What I mean by this is that your ancestor may have lied when it came to these two questions.

And why was that?

Well, they would have done this as they were afraid that they would have been taxed more if they entered a high value for both of these questions.


Knowing the answer to this question can again greatly help you to narrow down your search for more records.

In this instance it can help you to locate the birth record of your ancestor.

House and Land

The state or territory would have been entered for this question. And if your ancestor had emigrated to America then the country of birth was recorded.

Father/Mother of foreign born

An addition to this census record was recording whether the parents of the individual was born outside of America.

This was a simple yes or no question.

Month of birth

As I discussed earlier if an individual was born within a year of the census then their month was recorded.

So, they would have answered Jan, Feb, Mar, and so on.

Married/Attended school during the year and literacy

These two questions had been included in the previous 1860 census records.

The government were interested to know whether the individual had either married or had attended school with a year of the census.

The following question referring to literacy was however amended for this census record.

Previous records asked whether the individual couldn’t read or write.

But for this record the question was broken down into two so there was more clarity.

The government could therefore know whether the person could not read, or write, or both.

Be mindful though of over-zealous enumerators who may have entered in values for these questions for infants.


The government again wanted to know the infirmity of the individual. The possible answers to this question were deaf and dumb; blind; insane; or idiotic.

Deaf and dumb

The question of whether the individual was a pauper or a convict was removed from this census record.

Able to vote

The last part of the census record asked whether the individual was a male, aged over 21 years and was able to vote.

If the person had been denied to vote due to rebellion or crime for example then this was indicated as well.

Where Can I Find These Records?

Okay, so you are probably wondering how can I find my ancestors and where can I look? Basically there are two options available to you.

Where can I find the 1880 census records

There is the FREE option and then there is PAID.

Your FREE option!

I will first start off with the paid option.

I highly recommend that you begin your family history research by using this free method. After all what is the point spending your money on information that you could have quite literally not paid a dime on.

Genealogy is of course a hobby that you will need to and expect at some point spend money. But do so when you have exhausted your free option.

My website of choice and my number one go to site is FamilySearch.

This site contains millions of records where I have found a lot of records containing my ancestors.

However, there have been times when I have not found what I was looking for on this website and so I had to turn my attention to genealogy search sites where you have to pay.

Your PAID options!

This therefore brings me to my two websites of choice, Ancestry and FindMyPast. Both of these contain millions of records much like FamilySearch.

Credit: Ancestry

But there is more of a chance for you to find your ancestors with these two.

Try Ancestry first!

My first pick though is Ancestry.

There is a reason why everyone has heard of this site and why it is the number one genealogy search website.

That is because not only does it has billions of records but there are literally millions of names within their database.

There is of course the community of members on this site who can help you with any queries that you may find.

You may even find living cousins who are members.

Then check out FindMyPast!

If however you are unsuccessful in finding your ancestor through Ancestry I do suggest you turn your attention to FindMyPast.

This is again another excellent website that you can use.

Sometimes I have found my ancestor by using this alternative. The reason for this is down to the indexing of the records.

Errors will inevitably creep in to these records!

When records have been transcribed by the person responsible for uploading the information errors are unfortunately bound to creep in.

This can be down to trying to decipher the fancy handwriting of the enumerator who by a mis-key from the transcriber.

This fact is sadly inevitable when it comes to genealogy research.

But to end off on a positive note I have found so many records containing my ancestors from using both of these sites.

So, I urge you to discover your ancestors through either, or even both of them.

My Final Thoughts!

By finding your ancestors within the 1870 census records you can see what happened to them after the events of the American Civil War.

The war may have almost certainly have shaped their lives from that moment on.

Not only can use the census records from this year, and others, to help you build your family tree but also you can discover your the stories behind your family history.

Write your very own family history book!

One great way that I learned more about my ancestry was by writing my very own family history book.

By looking at my ancestor’s life chronologically I was able to find gaps in my knowledge of them.

For example, I was well aware of my 2nd great grandfather John Couch, but I didn’t know too much about his earlier years.

It was only by searching for records, and namely newspaper archives, did I discover that he had a couple of brushes with the law.

These discoveries made for some quite interesting reading. And it quite surprised my father as well when I told him about them.

Uncover everything from census records!

So, my advice is learn all that you can from the census records.

Take what you can and build your family tree from the information that they contain.

Then when you have done that start to look a little closer and try to read between the lines.

You will be surprised as to what you will find, trust me!

Further Information!

After reading this helpful guide you may want to check out further information regarding US Census Records.

Why not head on over to the United States Census Bureau for help with your genealogy research.

Thank You and Please Leave A Comment

I hope you enjoyed this post explaining what you can learn from the 1870 census records. If you have any questions or comments then please leave a comment below.

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  1. Angela July 1, 2017
    • Owain July 2, 2017
  2. Sean L July 1, 2017
    • Owain July 2, 2017

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