Do You Have a Defective Ancestor?

Nancy Bane was a 62 year old housewife living in Gallia County, Ohio. Her attacks of mania started when she was 47. She was often kept under lock at key for at least part of the day.

She was defective... 


William Davis entered the Gallia County Infirmary in March of 1878. "Habitually intemperate," he was there at the expense of the county. 

He was dependent.

Henry Hunson was doing 60 days in the Greene County, Ohio jail for larceny. 

He was delinquent. 

The terms "defective," "dependent," and "delinquent" aren't my terms. They are how Nancy, William, and Henry were described on a special schedule of the 1880 census. Once we get past the shock of those terms, we can find some detailed information about the people who were classified as such by the Federal government.

[NOTE: You might want to check out my post with my thoughts on handling the words that we find disturbing.]

The 1880 Special Schedule of Defective, Dependent, and Delinquent Classes

Besides the “regular” population schedule that we usually use in the census, some years have other schedules. In 1880, the Special Schedule of Defective, Dependent, and Delinquent Classes (sometimes called the DDD Schedule) gave further information about people in seven different categories:

Insane: The schedule lists the “form” of the person’s insanity (melancholia, mania, epilepsy, etc.), history of “attacks,” if they need to be under lock and key, type of restraints (if any), and history of institutionalization.

It’s important to remember that it was often a family member giving information about the “insane” person. Even if it was a physician, the understanding of mental health was barely in its infancy. Epilepsy was considered a form of insanity, as was postpartum depression. Where today we would recognize the problems that Civil War veterans had as PTSD, back then they were simply “insane.” (Even the term “shell shock” wouldn’t come into use until World War I.)

Idiots: An idiot for this schedule was defined as “a person the development of whose mental faculties was arrested in infancy or childhood before coming to maturity.” Questions included if the person was self-supporting, age at which idiocy occurred, supposed cause of idiocy, size of head, training school history, and other disabilities the person had.

Deaf-mutes: Enumerators were tasked with not listing those who were only deaf or hard-of-hearing or those who were only mute. “A deaf-mute is one who cannot speak, because he cannot hear sufficiently well to learn to speak.” Information includes if he or she was self-supporting, age that deafness occurred, supposed cause of deafness, history of institutions, and other disabilities.

Blind: The semi-blind could be included, but not those who could see well enough to read. The form asked if the person was self-supporting, form of blindness, supposed cause, the age that blindness occurred, institutional info, and other disabilities.

Homeless Children: This is a bit of a misleading category. Rather than for homeless children, it was for children in institutions (children’s homes, poorhouses, etc.) Information includes their residence when not in the home, if the father and/or mother were deceased, if the child was abandoned, if the parents had surrendered control to the institution, if they were born in the institution, year admitted, if the child was separated from his/her mother, the child’s criminal history, and disabilities.

Inhabitants in Prison: This section gives information about the prisoner’s residence, type of prisoner, why they are in prison (awaiting trial, serving a term, etc.), date of incarceration, alleged offense, sentence, and if the prisoner was at hard labor.

Paupers and Indigent: Similar to the Homeless Children section, this part of the schedule was for those who were “in institutions, poor-houses or asylums, or boarded at public expense in private houses.” Information includes residence “when at home,” how he or she was supported; if the person was able-bodied, habitually intemperate, epileptic, or a convicted criminal; disabilities; year admitted; and other family members in the institution (spouse, parents, children, and siblings). There was also a section at the end about the institution itself.

Portion of the 1880 Schedule of Defective, Dependent, and Delinquent Classes, Dover Township, Fulton County, Ohio. Image on

How to Tell If Your Ancestor Is Included in This Schedule

There are two easy ways to tell if your ancestor is listed on the 1880 DDD schedule.

Is he or she living in an institution, such as a county home, infirmary, or jail? If so, he or she is likely on at least the “Pauper and Indigent,” “Prisoners,” or “Homeless Children” lists. Depending on their mental and physical health, he or she might also be on the other schedules.

If your ancestor wasn’t living in an institution in 1880, take a close look at their census listing. Look in the section labeled “Health,” and see if anything is checked in the columns for blind, “deaf and dumb,” idiotic, or insane. If something is checked, that person should be on the appropriate part of the 1880 DDD.

You can make sure that you’re looking at the right person by comparing the household and family number on the population schedule with the household and family number listed on the DDD schedule; they should match.

Nancy Bane in the 1880 census, showing her as insane. (Click to enlarge.)

Finding These Records

Although the 1880 DDD schedule was part of the Federal census, not all of the states turned over their copies to the National Archives. Some loaned them to NARA for microfilming; those states are available on Ancestry in the collection “U.S. Federal Census – 1880 Schedules of Defective, Dependent, and Delinquent Classes.” Some, including Illinois and Iowa are available on FamilySearch. Also look in the FamilySearch Catalog; additional titles can be found there. Some of those are also online, so be sure to click on the title to check availability.

Some states still have their copy in their state archives or state library. Also, Family Tree Magazine published a list of where some of the DDD schedules can be found. Though it isn’t comprehensive, it should give you a good starting point.

Two Last Notes About These Records

The 1880 Schedule of Defective, Dependent, and Delinquent Classes gives us great detail about these individuals. We can see what the supposed cause of their disability was, as well as glean clues for further research. (Did they attend a school? Go look for those records!)

It can be difficult to read these records. I don’t mean in terms of finding them or in the handwriting (though that can be a challenge at times). I mean it by the details you might find. Discovering that your ancestor was kept in restraints or that he was “habitually intemperate” can be disconcerting. Keep an open mind about them and the person who recorded the information.

The 1880 Defective, Dependent, and Delinquent Census
Posted: November 2, 2017.

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    • You’re welcome! I’ve been fascinated with the 1880 DDD schedules – I hope others find them as useful as I have!

  • In 1860 Jane Bailey was living with her mother and step father. in 1870 my 2nd great grand aunt was idiotic. In 1880 she was crippled in June 1857 and now she has Melancholia so I really don’t know what was wrong with her. Since she was institutionalized in 1870 I assume her mother and stepfather have died or are not able to care for her. They don’t appear in the 1870 census so far.

    • You’ve discovered the challenge of studying anything regarding our ancestors’ health (mental and/or physical). What does it mean to be “idiotic” in that record? Who is giving the information? Why was the record created? Was it deemed more relevant (for that record) that she’s crippled rather than suffering from melancholia?

      Have you looked for the institution records? They might be more detailed.

  • I’ve used these records in my presentations to help with orphan and adoption research clues (dependent) with great success. I do clarify that there was no such thing as politically correct phrases back then. They recorded info as they saw it. My step g-grandfather was in the SD state asylum. I found out he had epilepsy. Later in his life the episodes got quite violent so with his permission the wife had him admitted. I knew about the asylum for 15 years before I found out the why. You gave good advice about the “keep researching” idea.
    Thank you.

    • Many of the non-population census schedules that you see online, such as the 1880 Defective schedules, have been digitized from microfilm. Unfortunately, not all of the non-population schedules have been microfilmed (let alone digitized).

      However, many of the schedules for Maryland do exist. This page from the National Archives lists what is available and has a link to the Maryland State Archives, where you can find many of the schedules:

      • Thanks very much for this lead; I was able to find my great-great-grandfather in a Frederick County mental hospital and get a few more details about him.

  • I saw the Twitter post chastising you for using the word “defective” in your title of this article. I don’t think you did anything wrong. What makes those terms offensive is a bit of a moving target. Folks with intellectual disabilities (the current term) were called idiots in the 1800s and retarded in the late 1900s. Now, “autistic” is the new favorite for calling someone stupid. I’m sure, a few decades from now, this word will be banned from the English language as well.

    I found a relative on the DDD who was listed as idiotic. The good news is that I always saw her surrounded by family in those records, even until the end when she was listed as having tuberculosis. Her mother stayed with her until her mother’s death. I’m unable to find any records beyond that.

    Thank you for posting this article. We all need to see the past with an open mind, realizing that they didn’t have the knowledge that we do now.

    • It’s disingenuous of us to do historical research if we don’t recognize the terms they used then.

      I will, however, push back on your statement that “‘autistic’ is the new favorite [word] for calling someone stupid.” Autism is a medical diagnosis; it is not a term for calling someone stupid. Apologies if I sound snippy, but as the mother of a son with autism, it is a subject that I am quite familiar with.

      • I too am the mother of a son with autism. He is not stupid, but he is certainly different. His brain is wired differently. I find it so sad that people make such sweeping general statements on something so complex.

  • One of my ancestors died in the state insane asylum in 1881. I found the details of his illness in a Dartmouth College class history, of all places. His treating physician gave all of the details of his symptoms and diagnosis to the class historian, who published them as alumni news.

  • Thanks for this. I had the regular census listing for my 3rd great-grandfather, but this adds more detail. He suffered with “chronic mania” for 6 years before his death in 1881, which must have been hard for his family.

  • RE: “Defective” Ancestors: We were in the genealogy section of the Thomaston, GA, library, looking for Reids, when we came across a copy of “The Georgia Black Book.” It’s a compilation of the rosters of Nineteenth Century Georgia prisons and asylums. The dedication reads something like: “Finally, a book with MY ancestors.”

      • Ancestors with spotty, criminal, etc., lives are sometimes the most fun to find. I was looking for a maternal GGF when a look-up vulunteer in Ohio emailed with information “that you may not want.” Turns out he left his wife and small children, married someone in another state, was arrested for bigamy in Canada, jumped bail and stiffed the guy who loaned him the money, and ended up being an Ohio bank examiner, then a Texan land empresario of sorts. Much more interesting than being a shoe salesman (though not for my GGM).

  • Thank you so much for this post. I just found my brick wall grand uncle using the 1880 DDD Census. I knew he had ‘consumption’ from an earlier census. He was in the hospital in 1880 with ‘dementia’. So sad, but at least I know he probably died around that time. I still haven’t found the death date, but will focus after 1880.
    Again, many thanks!

  • This was a great post. I had a question about where my 3X great grandmother died, as everyone else had her hometown (shwere she was buried), and I had something completely different. Well, I got a copy of her obituary and she had been admitted to the poor house/asylum and jumped from a window to her death. This was 1859, and her obituary was not only stunning in its detail of how she was able to escape, the nature of her wounds and her death, but that the newspaper took to account Trumbull County and its lack of safe place for the insane who could not be placed at the State level and promised that it would be an issue for the future budget. Unfortunately, as printed later in a history of the County Home, Ohio didn’t outlaw admitting children until 1884 and prohibited the insane and epileptic in 1898, or 39 years after her death.

    • Thanks for sharing that, Jean. It’s amazing (and sad) why people would be admitted to the county or state home and the conditions they often had to endure in those homes.

    • The book by Nellie Yost, Evil Obsession which can be ordered online/bookstore gives a very good description of how people were treated at the poor farms.

  • Thank you for helping me understand the 1880 Census. I have an ancestor listed on that census as “Idiot” however he is not shown on any census afterward nor can I find any death records for him. Any thoughts where I might look for him. He was 14 yrs old in the 1880 census. thank you.

  • Hello. I JUST found your site and find it beyond interesting. I am researching my family’s history – so many facets. At this time, I cannot find anything except the census of 1930 for my great uncle. He was born in Italy and immigrated to the USA – living in Philadelphia with my grandmother (paternal). He was admitted to Byberry State Hospital….it was a terrible, awful, hell-like institution as I am finding via research. He is listed incorrectly (his age) on the 1940 census. I cannot find any date of death or any other information on him. It is almost as though he disappeared.
    Wouldn’t it be necessary for a death certificate to be provided upon his passing? I have no information on this nor where he would be interred.
    Any ideas of where I can go next? I have tried almost everywhere with NO luck at all. Thanks. MIchelle