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State Census Board records, 1865-1935

 Series — Multiple Containers
Identifier: C#00199-2001-29

Scope and Contents

The records of the census board include census records for the 1875, 1885, 1905, 1915, and 1925 state decennial census. Census records include bound volumes, cards, microfilm and statistical reports.


  • Creation: 1865-1936

Language of Materials


Conditions Governing Access

No special restrictions unless otherwise specified.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright is in the public domain unless otherwise specified. We reserve the right to restrict reproduction of materials due to preservation concerns.

Biographical / Historical

The General Assembly enacted Public Law Chapter 577 in 1865 which provided for the taking of a decennial census of the inhabitants and voters of the state. The act authorized that a census be taken in cities by agents appointed by the board of aldermen and in the towns by the assessors. Subsequently the agents and assessors must deposit returns with the Secretary of State by July 1st of the same year. The Secretary of State was responsible for providing forms for the returns to the clerks of the several cities and towns on or before the first day of May. In order to carry out the duties enumerated in the law, the Secretary of State with the advice of the Governor, hired Dr. Edwin M. Snow as the Superintendent of the Census. Dr. Snow was given full power to implement the requirements of the law which included preparing forms and devising a plan for the collection of and tabulation of statistics to include, population, manufactures, business and agriculture. Aggregate data, as required, was published by the Secretary of State in 1867. In this report, the Secretary of State suggested that a Bureau of Statistics be established to provide statistics in relation to manufactures, agriculture, trade, commerce as well as other statistics determined to be useful on a yearly basis.In

1875 Public Law Chapter 449 created the Census Board. The Census Board consisted of the Governor, the Secretary of State and a Superintendent of the Census who was appointed by the Governor. The Superintendent was responsible for printing the forms and providing instruction to enumerators and the board was responsible for appointing agents to conduct the census. As a result, a census for 1875 was conducted to include categories of information obtained for the 1865 census as well as any other information deemed necessary. Likewise a statistical report was published by the Board in 1877.

The 1885 census was conducted in much the same manner as the previous censuses. A census board was convened six months prior to the date of which the census was to be taken. The census board was also responsible for the implementation and management of the 1895, 1905, 1915 and 1925 state census.

In 1887, following the State’s third census, the position of Commissioner of Industrial statistics was established under PL 1887, chapter 621. Aside from tabulating statistical data regarding the state’s workforce, the Commissioner of Industrial Statistics also assumed the responsibilities of the Superintendent of the Census (see Chapter 63 of the 1882 Public Statutes). Additionally the commissioner was required to report statistical details to the General Assembly regarding “the condition of labor and business in all mechanical, manufacturing, commercial and other industrial businesses of the state especially in relation to the social, educational and sanitary condition of the laboring classes”.

In 1919 (Public Law Chapter 1741), the Commissioner’s title was changed to the Commissioner of Labor who took over all responsibilities formerly performed by the Commissioner of Industrial Statistics. The chapter also created the State Board of Labor whose duties was to report to the General Assembly any recommendations relating to the laws of the state regarding labor, promote mediation and conciliation of controversies and disputes between employees and employers and to avoid resort to strikes, lockouts, boycotts, blacklists, discriminations and legal proceeding in or arising out of such controversies and disputes and matters of employment. The board also prescribed rules of procedure and had the power to conduct investigations, to hold hearings and to summon witnesses. The commissioner reported monthly to the board in all matters relating to labor.

In 1935 the Department of Labor was established by statutory authority in PL 1935, chapter 2250, Section 90. Upon creation, the department assumed the responsibilities of the former Commissioner of Labor and the Superintendent of Industrial Statistics existing before that title. This statute also abolished the Census Board whereupon the Director of Labor assumed all responsibilities and functions relating to conducting the decennial census and keeping statistics. The last census was authorized in 1935 and was taken in 1936. The statute that governed the decennial census was repealed in 1985. The department gradually evolved over the following decades to include a variety of divisions, boards, and advisory councils related to all fields of labor. In 1996 PL 226 renamed the department as the Department of Labor and Training (RIGL §42.16.1) thereby combining the Department of Labor and the Department of Employment and Training.


735 Reels (735 microfilm reels and volumes/887 boxes)


Records of the Census Board and the Superintendent of the Census include state decennial census manuscripts, census cards and microfilm.


Census are arranged by municipality and by enumeration district therein. The 1905 is arranged by municipality and then arranged by male and female and by surname therein. The1935 census is arranged by municipality and alphabetically by surname therein.

Rhode Island Digital Archives


Prior accruals include:

C#5, 6, 8, 156, 200, 201, 202, 767, 811, 877, 1065.

1996-40, 1997-11, 1998-100, 1999-65, 1999-79, 1999-87,

Related Materials

From Report on the Archives of Rhode Island (1904) Brigham notes: Census of 1895 ("The original returns, tied up in bundles, are in the office of the commissioner of industrial statistics. They have not as yet been transcribed into volumes.") p. 553. The only extant copy of the 1895 state census is Town of Bristol's copy and is in the custody of the Bristol Town Clerk.

1875 census index card file and microfilm (Acc: 2001-29) created for the Archives Division by volunteers headed by Al Eastwood and the Rhode Island Genealogical Society.

1915 and 1925 street list/finding aid created by the Archives Division.

1935 microfilm finding aid created by the Archives Division.

Transcription/compiliation of the 1885 census for the towns of Foster and Glocester created by the Archives Division.

1865 census manuscripts are held by the Rhode Island Historical Society Library. The 1865 name index was created by the Rhode Island Historical Society.

1999-87 Department of Labor census records 1936 User Friendly 1885 State Census of New Shoreham Compiled by Jeffrey Howe, 1996.


The 1865 census was administered primarily by the Department of State/Office of the Secretary of State. By the time the 1875 census was taken, responsibilities lay with the Census Board. At the time of the taking of the 1935 census in 1936, functions were taken over by the Department of Labor. Details of these two census were added here for the convenience of researchers and staff.

Cultural context

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Repository Details

Part of the Rhode Island State Archives Repository

33 Broad Street
Providence RI 02903 USA