Florida State Census, 1885

Toni Carrier
by Toni Carrier
Florida 1885 Census Handy Thompson
“Florida State Census, 1885,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HY-D15W-7K2?cc=1457854&wc=M6PP-X3D%3A41820401%2C41819602 : 1 April 2016), Leon > Population > image 127 of 356; citing NARA microfilm publication M845 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).

About This Collection

Today’s featured collection is the Florida State Census, 1885. This searchable collection contains population, agriculture, manufacture and mortality schedules for a special federal census for Florida made in 1885. The census was taken at the request of the federal government, and with the federal government’s assistance. All Florida counties are represented except Alacuhua, Clay, Columbia and Nassau.

Population schedules exist for all Florida counties (with the exception of those noted above), but not all counties are represented in the agriculture, manufacture and mortality schedules.

The collection contains 8, 468 images which may be browsed by county. You can browse to the county of interest to see which of the census schedules exist for that county. While browsing the schedules, note that the census taker’s directions are printed on the back of each schedule. A careful reading of the directions will help you further analyze the information on that schedule.

Florida 1885 Census Takers' Instructions
Florida 1885 Census Takers’ Instructions

This census can provide you with important information about your ancestor’s household in 1885. Because a large portion of the 1890 United States Federal Census was destroyed by fire, there is a gap of twenty years in the U.S. Census, from the 1880 Census to the 1900 Census. The Florida 1885 Census can fill in a portion of that gap.

What’s in These Records?

For each individual listed within a household, the following information was recorded:

  • Name
  • Relationship to head of household
  • Race, gender, and age
  • Marital status
  • Occupation
  • Place of birth by state or territory in the U.S.
  • Place of birth for mother and father by state or territory in the U.S.

Of special interest are the mortality schedules created in 1885. These list the name, age, gender, race, marital status, place of birth, place of parents’ birth and occupation, month of death, cause of death, length of residence in the county and attending physician for those who died between June 1, 1884 and May 31, 1885. 

Researching From This Collection

Let’s look at an example for the household of Handy Thompson in Leon County, Florida:

Florida 1885 Census Handy Thompson
“Florida State Census, 1885,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HY-D15W-7K2?cc=1457854&wc=M6PP-X3D%3A41820401%2C41819602 : 1 April 2016), Leon > Population > image 127 of 356; citing NARA microfilm publication M845 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).

Name: Handy Thompson
Residence Place: Leon, Florida
Age: 45
Birth Year (Estimated): 1840
Birthplace: Florida
Marital Status: Married
Race (Original): B
Race: Black
Schedule Type: Population
Sheet Letter: A
Relationship to Head of Household: Self
House Number: 1159

HouseholdRoleSexAgeBirthplace
Handy ThompsonSELFM45y
Milley ThompsonWIFEF42y
Margaret ThompsonDAUF12y
Edward ThompsonSONM10y
John ThompsonSONM7y


“Florida State Census, 1885,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MNJW-JB5 : 1 April 2016), John Thompson in household of Handy Thompson, , Leon, Florida; citing p. 123, sheet letter A, number , line 43, NARA microfilm publication M845 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.); FHL microfilm 888,968.

1880 U.S. Census: Handy Thompson

Handy Thompson’s household appears in the 1880 U.S. Census for Leon County, Florida:

Name: Handy Thompson
Event Type: Census
Event Date: 1880
Event Place: Precinct 7, Leon, Florida, United States
Gender: Male
Age: 35
Marital Status: Married
Race: Black
Race (Original): B
Occupation: Farmer
Relationship to Head of Household: Self
Relationship to Head of Household (Original): Self
Birth Year (Estimated): 1845
Birthplace: North Carolina, United States
Father’s Birthplace: North Carolina, United States
Mother’s Birthplace: North Carolina, United States
Sheet Letter: C
Sheet Number: 225
Person Number: 0
Volume: 1

Household members were:

HouseholdRoleSexAgeBirthplace
Handy ThompsonSelfM35North Carolina, United States
Millie ThompsonWifeF35Virginia, United States
Eddie ThompsonSonM8Florida, United States
Margaret ThompsonDaughterF7Florida, United States
Johnnie ThompsonOtherM4Florida, United States


“United States Census, 1880,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MNZQ-YBB : 19 August 2017), Johnnie Thompson in household of Handy Thompson, Precinct 7, Leon, Florida, United States; citing enumeration district ED 82, sheet 225C, NARA microfilm publication T9 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.), FHL microfilm 1,254,129.

Handy Thompson, 1870 U.S. Census

Handy Thompson’s household also appears in the 1870 U.S. Census:

Name: Handy Thompson
Event Type: Census
Event Date: 1870
Event Place: Leon, Florida, United States
Event Place (Original): Northern Division, Leon, Florida, United States
Gender: Male
Age: 29
Race: Black
Birth Year (Estimated): 1841
Birthplace: Florida, United States
Page Number: 115

Members of his household were:

HouseholdRoleSexAgeBirthplace
Handy ThompsonM29Florida, United States
Milly ThompsonF30Florida, United States
Moses ThompsonM7Florida, United States
Handy ThompsonM1Florida, United States

“United States Census, 1870”, database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MNZF-GR6 : 8 June 2019), Handy Thompson in entry for Handy Thompson, 1870.

Now let’s see if we can find Handy Thompson in records made before 1870.

Handy Thompson, 1867-1868 Voter Registrations

We searched the FamilySearch collection US, Florida — Voter Registration Records, 1867–1905 and found that Handy Thompson appears in 1867-1868 voter registrations in Leon County.

Name: Handy Thompson
Event Type: Voter Registration
Event Place: Florida, United States
Race: Colored

Florida Handy Thompson Voter Registration Rolls Leon County
“Florida, County Voter Registration Records, 1867-1905”, database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:WPZ7-WGN2 : 13 November 2019), Leon county, Box 1 Hernando & Leon counties 1867-1868, Leon county, Film # 008620845, Handy Thompson, image 48 of 753.

Here we see that Handy Thompson registered to vote on July 26th. He took an oath of loyalty, was listed as Colored, and had been in Florida at least 12 months.

Handy Thompson, Freedmen’s Bureau Records

If Handy Thompson was in Leon county in 1867, he may have interacted with the Freedmen’s Bureau. Let’s see if we can find him there by searching discoverfreedmen.org . A search at this site returned no search results, but there are some Florida Freedmen’s Bureau records that are in “browse images” collections at FamilySearch. To find the browse images collections, we can consult the Wiki page African American Freedmen’s Bureau Records.

African American Freedmen s Bureau Records Genealogy - FamilySearch Wiki
African American Freedmen s Bureau Records Genealogy – FamilySearch Wiki

We see that there are several browse images collections in the Freedmen’s Bureau records on FamilySearch. Let’s see if we can find him in one of those collections, United States, Freedmen’s Bureau, Records of the Assistant Commissioner, 1865-1872.

The Florida Freedmen’s Bureau rations requests are especially detailed, often listing names and ages of household members who received rations. We chose to browse through Roll 11, Applications of freedmen for rations, 1868, and we did find a rations request for Handy Thompson and his wife Millie.

We learn from this record that Handy and Millie Thompson were part of a group of freedmen who rented land from C.R. Heyward in Leon county on Thomasville Road, about seven miles northeast of Tallahassee. Names and ages of all of the freedmen who received rations there are listed:

Florida Handy Thompson Freedmens Bureau Rations Request Cover Page
Florida Handy Thompson Freedmens Bureau Assistant Commissioner Rations Request
Florida Handy Thompson Freedmens Bureau Assistant Commissioner Rations Request
“United States, Freedmen’s Bureau, Records of the Assistant Commissioner, 1865-1872,” images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-C9TZ-HSJY-F?cc=2427901&wc=73QQ-X28%3A1513389702%2C1513389901 : 23 March 2017), Florida > Roll 11, Applications of freedmen for rations, 1868 > image 735 of 1212; citing multiple NARA microfilm publications; Records of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, 1861 – 1880, RG 105; (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1969-1980).

This record reveals a relationship between C.R. Heyward, the landowner, and Handy and Millie Thompson. This may be a clue to a possible former slaveholder.

We can first search the collection United States 1860 Census Slave Schedules to see if C.R. Heyward was a slaveholder. If we find Heyward on the 1860 Census Slave Schedule, we will want to research C.R. Heyward and his family, then look for antebellum records such as probate records, that might include Handy, Millie or any of the other freedmen listed in the rations request.

Because we found Handy Thompson in the browse images collection United States, Freedmen’s Bureau, Records of the Assistant Commissioner, 1865-1872, we should browse other portions of the collection to see if Handy Thompson is listed there as well.

Homestead Entries for Florida

The operations of the Freedmen’s Bureau in Florida were especially significant, as the bureau assisted freedmen with homesteading lands. From the descriptive pamphlet for M1869, Records of the Assistant Commissioner and Subordinate Field Offices for the State of Florida, we learn that Locating Agents in Florida assisted freedmen with selecting lands and provided them with a one-month supply of rations, free transportation to the selected lands and free seed for the first season’s planting.

As a result, by 1868, freedmen had entered more than 3,000 homesteads for land in Florida, more than in any southern public lands state. To search for a homestead entry for your Florida ancestor, you can visit the Bureau of Land Management’s General Land Office (BLM-GLO) website.

BLM GLO Records
BLM-GLO Records Search Page

Our BLM-GLO search for Handy Thompson in Florida homestead records produced no results, but your search for a Florida ancestor may have different results.

To learn more about homestead records, see the Homestead Records page on the FamilySearch Wiki.

Freedman’s Bank Records

The Freedman’s Savings and Trust (“Freedman’s Bank”) established branches in many of the locations where the Freedmen’s Bureau operated. Leon County, Florida, where Handy Thompson lived, did have a branch of the Freedman’s Bank. Our search of the FamilySearch collection United States, Freedman’s Bank Records, 1865-1874 did not reveal a bank account for Handy Thompson or other members of his family but your search for a Florida ancestor may have different results.

Sharpen the Saw

Our research, starting from the 1885 Florida census, allowed us to move back in time to find pre-1870 voter registrations and Freedmen’s Bureau records for Handy Thompson. What are some other resources we could have consulted? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Related FamilySearchCollections and Wiki Pages

FamilySearch’s Florida Research page contains information on searchable Florida collections, “browse image” Florida collections and Florida records within the FamilySearch catalog. You’ll also find related Learning Center courses and wiki pages for Florida listed there.

The Wiki page African American Resources for Florida is a great starting place to learn about more resources for African American genealogy research in Florida.

To learn more about African American genealogy research in Florida, You can view BlackProGen LIVE! Ep 59: People of Color Genealogy Research in Florida.

More Wiki Resources for African American Genealogy

Researching African American Genealogy provides step-by-step guidance for beginning your ancestor search, as well as links to online resources.

Quick Guide to African American Records contains information on beginning research tips, links to suggested guides for beginning your search for African American ancestors, overviews of major record sets, tips for finding the slaveholder, links to tutorials for African American genealogy in the FamilySearch Learning Center, and links to other online and offline resources.

Southern States Slavery and Bondage Collections will help you locate digitized searchable collections as well as digitized microfilms in the FamilySearch catalog related to slavery and bondage. The page is arranged by state. 

African American Genealogy provides links to Wiki pages for researching African Americans in each U.S. state.

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