In 1880, abolitionist and author Frederick Douglass lived at Cedar Hill, his house in Anacostia, with his first wife and four granddaughters. His census form listed his race as "mulatto," his age as 60 and his occupation as "U.S. Marshall," for which he is now less well known than for his speeches and books.
The former slave's neighbors included the family of a white carpenter, James C. Miles, and his wife, Jane, whose occupation was "keeping house." On the other side lived the family of Perry Towns, a widowed black laborer. Until Douglass moved to Cedar Hill, at 1411 W St. SE, in 1877, blacks and immigrants were not allowed to live in the neighborhood.
Yesterday, the basic facts about Douglass, his family and his neighbors became available on the Internet, along with data about 50 million other Americans collected in the 1880 Census. The searchable database is on a free Internet site sponsored by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, www.familysearch.org.
"It is a gift to us from our ancestors," said Preston Jay Waite, associate director of the Census Bureau. Richard E. Turley Jr., a church official, said of all the records available to people searching for 19th-century ancestors, "none is superior to the 1880 Census," which is more inclusive than other records for the time.
The 1880 Census is particularly valuable because it was only the second count to record African Americans as individuals with first names and last names, rather than as property.
It offers a snapshot of a turning point in U.S. history, when the country was recovering from the Civil War and plunging into an era of industrialization and new technology. Only a few years earlier, the telephone had been invented by Alexander Graham Bell, who then moved to Washington to establish a laboratory that would later produce other inventions.
The 1880 Census found Bell, 33, living with his 22-year-old wife, two daughters, and two servants. (The database does not list his street address.) His birthplace and that of his parents was listed as "Scotland" -- the first time the census had asked about ancestral countries. Bell was among a leading wave of immigrants that would be the largest in U.S. history until the past decade.
On his census form, Bell's occupation was listed as "professor of electrician."
The census project is part of a broader family history program sponsored by the church, which offers access to several hundred million names via the Internet, CD-ROM or records at Mormon centers. The church's genealogy Web site receives 7 million hits a day, church officials said.
Genealogy is an increasingly popular hobby that the church encourages because of belief that the family unit is sacred. In some cases, Mormons identify ancestors to have them baptized posthumously.
Last year, the church released the records of the Freedman's Bank, a short-lived institution created for newly freed slaves after the Civil War. Yesterday, the church also put up records from the 1881 Canadian Census.
More recent U.S. Census data, up to 1930, can be accessed on pay sites on the Internet. Partly for that reason, this is the last census the church intends to put online, Turley said. Individual census information collected after 1930 has not been made public yet.
It took 17 years for church volunteers to transcribe handwritten 1880 Census records and type them into the database. Researchers and historians at the University of Minnesota then standardized the names and localities, and also organized the information so it could be easily retrieved.
At a Capitol Hill news conference yesterday -- one of several across the country announcing the availability of the database -- there were joking references to the fact that some people may find ancestors best left hidden.
"I am sure we have some unscrupulous people in my background," said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), a church member who co-sponsored a bill designating October as Family History Month, "but we also have some wonderful people."
by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.