When Was Almanzo Wilder Born?

Laura and Almazo Wilder. 1885.
Books about Almanzo and Laura Ingalls Wilder report Almanzo’s birthday as February 13, 1857. Even his headstone in Mansfield, Missouri states that same birth year. But some researchers wonder if this is accurate. Multiple census records show he may have been born in 1859.

A census reports basic information about the population. In 1860, the census recorded Almanzo as a 1-year-old. Then the 1870 census stated Almanzo’s age as 11, and in 1875 the census said he was 16. If these are accurate, he would have been born in 1859.

Some argue census records often contain errors. Three census records in a row report his age with consistency. I think that's important to consider.       

A likely reason for the birth year confusion is homesteaders had to be 21 to file a claim. The Long Winter explains how Almanzo’s age was a secret since he was only 19 when he filed for his claim instead of the required 21. It’s possible Almanzo just continued to use his “older” age even after his homesteading days were over.   

When I share about researching during my author visits or adult programs, I like to remind the audience the importance of interviewing experts and getting hands-on with research. If I had not visited the Almanzo Wilder farm, I may have relied on book research for Almanzo's date of birth for The Laura Ingalls Wilder Companion: A Chapter-by-Chapter Guide. BUT I did go to the Wilder farm which prompted me to hunt down the census records to see for myself if what I learned on the farm could be true.

I also talked to additional experts, including Nancy Cleaveland, who maintains the www.PioneerGirl.com website. She also questions the year of Almanzo Wilder's birth and has found more primary sources, like letters, in addition to the census reports. Visit her site and search for Almanzo Wilder (under W) to see her notes about Almanzo's birthday.

Though I suspect adults may be more fascinated with Almanzo's date of birth than children--the primary readers of the Little House books--I did include this information in my book The Laura Ingalls Wilder Companion because I couldn't include a date of birth for Almanzo without an explanation. And though I can't state with 100% certainty Almanzo was born in 1859, I think it's likely.

If you like this kind of Little House backstory, consider pre-ordering my book (affiliate link) today. I enjoyed examining many of the stories and statements in the Little House books to learn if they were true. I hope curious readers will appreciate the "Fact or Fiction?" sidebars I included.

Happy Trails!
Annette Whipple is a nonfiction children's author. Learn more about her books and presentations at www.AnnetteWhipple.com.

2 comments

  1. Hmm. So he may have just 8 years older then Laura. The tv show sort of got that fact right when they hired the actor who was 8 years older then melissa to play the part of course she was 15 at the time. Though i guess it was in the days to marry of the daughters as soon as possible. She was 18 at time of marriage.

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    1. In those days eight years was not a big difference. :)

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