Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Workday Wednesday: Doll house work in the 1880s?

1880 Census, Portville, Cattaraugus Co, NY

I mentioned in a previous blog post about my other hobby of miniatures and dollhouses. I recently ran across an unusual occupation in the 1880 census while doing some work for a client (although genealogy is just a hobby/avocation, I sometimes take on client projects as time permits).

As shown above (although I apologize as this is not the greatest image to share), Fanny Maxson’s occupation was listed as that of “Dollhouse work” in the 1880 U.S. Census. I have never run across an occupation such as this before. My first thought was that maybe she did not function intellectually at her stated age (and therefore did not do real housework, only played with dolls). On second thought, though, it appears that she was married since she has a different surname than that of her father with whom she was living. I am unsure at this point, more research is needed. Unfortunately, this was not the correct family I was looking for and will have to set it aside to pursue another time. Oh, Fanny, what secrets do you hold?

I would love to hear more about any unusual occupations from census records. If anyone has any examples or ideas as to what Fanny might have been doing in 1880, please share!

Plus, if there are any blogging buddies that can help: I can't seem to find a good way of sharing census images on my blog. I had a portion of the above census captured to a One Note file and tried to blog it that way, but the actual image part didn't show up. Any assistance is appreciated!


  1. This is a intriguing occupation. Your post brought to mind an old photo at the Library of Congress website of people working in a toy factory. Do you suppose she worked out of her home making dollhouse furniture? Did you happen to see anyone else listed with this occupation on the pages before and after the page for Fanny? I tend to think this was actually her occupation. If she wasn't of right mind, I think the census taker would have notated it. I recall seeing individuals listed in the 1870s or 1880s census records as infirmed, feeble or lunatic. If you learn more about her occupation, please give an update.

  2. What a great find! I wonder if there was some type of toy company in the town. Or maybe she just worked out of her house. It will be interesting to here more. And, as for the census image issue, I use the Snipping Tool in Microsoft or the PrtScn option to "copy" and paste the image I want to use into another program. You can check out my links on those ideas here:

  3. Are you sure it doesn't say "DOES house work"? There's a Louisa Champlin several lines below who clearly / more legibly "DOES house work."