Educator Resources

Little House in the Census: Almanzo and Laura Ingalls Wilder

Teaching Activities

Standards Correlations

This lesson correlates to the National History Standards.

  • Era 6 -The Development of the Industrial United States (1870-1900)
    • Standard 2 -Demonstrate understanding of how massive immigration after 1870 and how new social patterns, conflicts, and ideas of national unity developed amid growing cultural diversity.

This lesson correlates to the National Standards for Civics and Government.

  • Standard II.B.1. -Explain how certain characteristics tend to distinguish American society from most other societies.

Cross-curricular Connections

Share these documents and teaching suggestions with your history, language arts, math, and geography colleagues.

Vocabulary Development

  1. Many terms in your explanation of the census and in these documents need to be identified for students. Ask students to locate the following terms in the documents and to use classroom resources (textbooks and reference books) to explain each term: census, document, enumeration district, incorporated, mortgage, nativity, owned free, population schedule, and supervisor's district.

Analyzing the Document

  1. Instruct students to examine the documents.
    (Note: when printed out, the documents are much more legible than they are online, and blank census forms are available from
    1. Ask students to figure out the column headings, the number of families represented, their place of origin, their level of education, and their economic status.
    2. The 1880 census Note gives Laura's age as 13; the 1900 census Note as 32. Both censuses were taken in June. Which is correct? How do you account for the error?
    3. Using the questions from the 1900 census, direct students to conduct a census of their own households.
    4. Direct students to compare and contrast the responses to the questions in 1880, 1900, and the census the students made of their households. Discuss with them similarities and differences and ask them to hypothesize explanations and generalizations based on their census information.
    5. Ask students to brainstorm a list of other resources they could use to substantiate their theories.

Map Skills

  1. Ask students to extract geographical information from the population schedules of 1880 and 1900 to answer the following questions.
    1. In what area of the Dakota Territory did the Ingalls family live?
    2. In what area of Missouri did the Wilder family live?
    3. Estimate the number of miles that Laura Ingalls Wilder traveled when she moved from the Dakota Territory to Missouri.
    4. On a map, use colored pushpins and yarn or highlight lines to illustrate where the Ingalls and Wilder parents came from and trace the families' moves from where the parents were born to Missouri. (For a more complete tracing, students may wish to refer to the Little House books for clues.)
    5. Followup: On a world map, use yarn or highlight lines to illustrate the movement of all the people enumerated on this page of the 1900 census from their places of origin to Wright County, MO.

Research and Synthesis

  1. Ask students to examine the census of 1880 (or 1900) for their county. Direct students to write a paragraph describing the lifestyle of a typical family in that county in 1880 (or 1900) based only on information provided by the census. Students might include such topics as work, family, employment, and migration patterns.

Additional documents related to Laura Ingalls Wilder, including photographs and her father's Homestead Application, are available in the National Archives Catalog.

You can perform a keyword, digitized image and location search in the National Archives Catalog. The online catalog's advanced functionalities also allow you to search by organization, person, or topic.

The online catalog is a searchable database that contains information about a wide variety of NARA holdings across the country. You can use the National Archives Catalog to search record descriptions by keywords or topics and retrieve digital copies of selected textual documents, photographs, maps, and sound recordings related to thousands of topics.

Currently, about 80% of NARA's vast holdings have been described in the National Archives Catalog. Thousands of digital images can be searched in the National Archives Catalog. In keeping with NARA's Strategic Plan, the percentage of holdings described in the National Archives Catalog will grow continually.

The papers of Rose Wilder Lane, Laura Ingalls Wilder's daughter, are held by the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library. Visit the Hoover Library's Just For Kids web site for additional Ingalls family information.

For further information about the census, visit the U.S. Census Bureau's web site.

Note: We provide images of these documents in pdf format to ensure readability when printed. Since these pdf files are images rather than text, they cannot be read by pdf-to-text converters.

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