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Exploring Occupations and Demographics in your Community using the Census

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Author: Excerpted from an activity by teacher Mary Anne Deer, Putney Central School, Putney, VT
Grade Level: 6-8

Historical Context

  • Theme: Economic and Technical changes and their Relation to Society, Ideas, and the Environment
  • Era: The Development of Modern America (1865 to 1920)

Essential Question: How did industrialization affect the lives of Vermonters in the late 1800s?

Background Information: http://www.flowofhistory.org/themes/technology_transportation/overview.php

Materials/Primary Sources:

  • 1870 United States Federal Census for Putney, Vermont (pages 1, 8, 17, 19)
    The U.S. Federal Census may be accessed via www.ancestry.com (sign up for free 14-day trial or subscribe).
    On the ancestry.com home page, click on the Search button, and choose “Census & Voter Lists”.
    Click on the 1870 Census.
    On the right side of the next screen you can choose the state, county and then town.
    (Choose Vermont, Windham, and Putney, or alternatively, select and research your own town’s census records and find comparable examples for the activity below).
  • Enlarge and print pages 1, 8, 17, and 19 or have available for viewing by students on computers. (On-screen pages can be enlarged with the zoom button.) Printed copies are provided in 1870Census 1.jpg, 1870Census 8.jpg, 1870Census 17.jpg and 1870Census 19.jpg.

Activity Plan:
As a group, examine page 1 of the 1870 United States Federal Census for Putney, looking at the column headings, and paying special attention to columns 1 (house number), 3 (names), 4 (ages), and 7 (occupations). Note the kinds of occupations listed on this page, and who shared the same household.

Divide the class into 3 teams. Explain that they are going to do some sleuthing to see what other kinds of jobs people had during the latter half of the 1800s in Putney.

Distribute copies of the 1870 United States Federal Census for the town of Putney, page 8 to the first team, 17 to the second, and 19 to the third team.

Give them time to look over the page with their team, locating occupations, groups that lived together, and any unusual information. Specifically, ask them to look for the following information:

  • Did you find any list of people that lived together that was not a family?
  • What reasons did your team find that might explain the living arrangements?
  • How did industrialization account for any groups that could be found on the census?

After ten minutes or when discussion seems to be finished, ask the teams to share their answers to the questions.

Teacher Notes:
Page 1 of the census has little of unusual interest. It shows mostly farmers and wives who keep house. Compared to page 19, it is clear that the census taker started out in the country.

Page 8 becomes interesting when you reach line 10. After the head of the house, his wife, and his three children are listed, there is a list of people of various ages and last names all in the same household. One person, Clark Derby on line 18, is seven years old, attending school, and marked as “idiotic.” This list might very likely be the town farm list, although there is no road to prove that.

Page 17 contains another lengthy list of people living in the same household, none of which have the same last name. Their occupations vary, but all tie closely to the woolen industry. It would therefore appear that this is likely a mill house provided for the single workers at the woolen mill.

Page 19, line 10, refers to a worker in the paper mill, which might be of interest to the students, since there is still an active paper mill in Putney. Lines 16 and 17 place two dressmakers in the home of William Houghton (an opportunity to discuss itinerant workers who were housed and fed while they worked for a family). This page seems to reflect life “downtown,” as there is a butcher (line 2), the paper mill workers (lines 10 & 18), a harness maker (line 11), a carpenter (line 17), a merchant (line 21), and a carder in the woolen mill (line 30).


Flow of History
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