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Notes to Prospective Users of the Idaho Census (1880 and 1900)

History of the Project

About 1975, students at Idaho State University enrolled in The Historian's Craft (the History Department's sophomore-level class in methodology) began putting the information contained in the Idaho Territorial Census for 1880 into machine-readable format in order to use the computers to conduct historical research on Idaho's historical population. Students read the microfilm copy of the manuscript census and gave the information there - e.g., individuals' gender; age; relationship to head of household; occupation; place of birth for individual, father and mother; date of immigration -- a number so that the computer could make calculations on the data. (The earliest census for Idaho Territory occurred in 1870, but many of the people living in the southern part of the territory believed they were in Utah and, in fact, appear in the Utah Census for that year. A boundary survey in 1873 resolved this dispute, but it seemed reasonable to begin the census study with 1880 since by that point these residents knew they were in Idaho Territory, not Utah.)

In 1989, awards from the State Board of Education/Higher Education Research Council and the History Committee of the Idaho Centennial Commission facilitated completion of the coding of the 1880 census and began the task of coding the 1900 census (the 1890 manuscript census for most of the United States, unfortunately, was destroyed in a fire in Washington, D.C. at the turn of the century). Also at this time, the project expanded to involve students not only at ISU but also at the University of Idaho, Boise State University and Albertson College (then, the College of Idaho). These codebooks were subsequently copyrighted to the Idaho State Board of Education, and copies of the data and the codebooks were distributed to the Idaho State Historical Library, the University of Idaho, Boise State University, and the College of Idaho.

The data have proven to be useful in several ways. For example, in the late-1980s, an employee of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., established the fact that a number of glass plate negatives in the National Archives of Shoshone-Bannock Indians around the turn of the century were the work of Benedicte Wrensted, an early Pocatello photographer. The researcher was interested in knowing how many female photographers there were in Idaho in 1900, and the Census contained the relevant information for answering this question. More frequently, the information myself has been useful for talks given under the auspices of the Idaho Humanities Council's Speaker's Bureau for various groups around the state. Finally, ISU history students have used the data in connection with research projects for the History Department's Seminar, and other researchers on the ISU campus have also accessed the data in order to study early builders in Idaho and the ethnicity of early settlers.

Use of the Data

The Internet offers the possibility of making this census information available to a wide range of people, including scholars, teachers, genealogists and the general public. Potential users should be aware, however, that numerous errors appear in the file, especially in the names. As users find the errors, if they will note their location and communicate their whereabouts, the master record can be changed. Errors should be reported to Ron Hatzenbuehler, Department of History, Idaho State University, Pocatello, ID 83209 or by e-mail to

Those who publish articles or books based on these data should use the following statement in their first footnote:

The data used in this study relating to Idaho's population in 1880 and 1900 were supplied in partially-proofed form by the Idaho State University History Department (under copyright agreement with the Idaho State Board of Education).

The Codebooks by which the written information contained in the Census was transformed into numbers is copyrighted by the Idaho State Board of Education (1986 and 1991). In using this material, researchers acknowledge that any reproduction of the codebook or analyses for profit requires written approval from the Idaho State Board of Education.


I accept these conditions for the use of this census material.