Last month I wrote about an early Broomfield family, the Scheuns. Since then, several people have written and said they had found an error in the column. They referred to the1885 census. It is common knowledge that the census is taken every 10 years on the “0" years, which means that1885 should have read 1880. I was glad to see that someone actually reads my column close enough to catch a mistake. In this case, however, it wasn’t a mistake, there was a census taken in Colorado in 1885.
The 1885 Colorado Census is often referred to as a state census (1885 Colorado State Census) but it actually was a “Special Census.” On March 3, 1879, Congress passed an act which allowed any state or territory to take a census in 1885 with partial reimbursement from the federal government. Three states and two territories availed themselves of this government offer: Colorado, Florida, Nebraska, and the territories of Dakota and New Mexico. This census should not be confused with other 1885 state census records which exist for the states of Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Wisconsin. The census taken in those states were funded by the states and therefore were state censuses.
The 1885 special census is important for two reasons. First, Colorado, Nebraska, Dakota Territory (North and South Dakota) and New Mexico Territory were rapidly growing regions in the American frontier. Many of those listed in the census had migrated west or were new immigrants from European counties. Most had one thing in common–they had come for the free land of the Homestead Act. While many of those who migrated stayed, others spent just a short time on their way further west. The census might be one of the few records that documents this migration.
The second reason the 1885 Census is so important is the destruction of the 1890 census. The 1885 census helps fill in the 20 year gap left by the destruction of the 1890 census.
The 1885 special census has the same questions as the 1880 census. Those questions are: name, color, sex, age, relationship to head of household, marital status, occupation, health and disability questions, place of birth, literacy, parent’s place of birth. Copies of the census returns were supposed to be sent to the Department of the Interior in Washington, D.C. and the original kept by the state. The federal copies, with a few exceptions, were microfilmed by the National Archives.
The National Archives-Rocky Mountain Region has the microfilmed copies of the Colorado, Florida, New Mexico and Nebraska 1885 census. In addition, the Denver Public Library, Colorado State Archives, Colorado Historical Society have copies of the Colorado census. The Dakota Territory films and records can be found at the South Dakota State Historical Society and the State Historical Society of North Dakota.
The 1885 census included schedules for agriculture, industry and mortality as well as the population schedule. These schedules can be found intermixed with the population schedules on the microfilm.
Census records are the foundation by which we build our families when researching our genealogy. While the U.S. federal census recorded every ten years is the resource most used, knowing about and using other census records can bring added depth to research. In the future, I will explore other types of census records that should be considered when researching in the United States.