Historic Pittsburgh
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Classroom Application - Census Data

The Census Data

The Historic Pittsburgh Census Data covers the period in Pittsburgh history from 1850 to 1880. The data was derived from the United States Government’s decennial Census of Population. The census data that is online relates both to the City of Pittsburgh and to the City of Allegheny, which was later merged with Pittsburgh but during the nineteenth century was a separate entity. The data sets available are:

  • Allegheny City: 1850, 1860, 1870
  • City of Pittsburgh: 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880

Historic Pittsburgh Class Example - Census Data (pdf) contains sample questions you could ask your class to explore using this easily searchable data.

Experience with the census data not only provides an intriguing way to involve students in history, it offers practice with reasoning, comparisons, handling of data and other activities of a kind useful in a wide variety of learning contexts and often tested for on standardized examinations for high school students. It might even be possible to work with teachers of statistics or mathematics or other disciplines to create interdisciplinary exercises with the census data as the point of departure.

Please also bear in mind that the census data, while furnishing a lot of information and learning opportunities in and of itself, can be supplemented by material drawn from the Maps Collection, the Full-Text Collection, the Images Collection, and the Chronology. The Finding Aids feature points to primary source materials in the Archives Service Center at the University of Pittsburgh and the Library & Archives at the Heinz History Center. It will be of value primarily to those students who would be able to visit the archives either individually or as part of a class.

Notes About Searching the Census Data

Family historians have most often searched by names of individuals, but the other search options will generally be more useful in exploring Pittsburgh history broadly by students. Although the searchable categories do not immediately access all of the information on the individual census records (further clicking is required), they do provide amazingly good starting points. The “Advanced Search” feature is especially helpful in unlocking the “mysteries of Pittsburgh” in the mid to late nineteenth century.

Only the Pittsburgh 1880 Census can be searched by street name, but all of the census sets can be searched by individuals’ names, place of birth, gender and occupation. These search terms can be used in tandem; for example, to show listings for “all women from Italy” or “all men from Alabama” or “all cigar makers from Russia” or “all female clerks from Pennsylvania.” While “race” and “religion” are not searchable categories within this data, there are ways, illustrated below, where, these variables can also be explored.

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