U.S. Census Records - The Basics

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Introduction and Census Indexes

The U.S. Federal Census began in 1790 and is taken every 10 years. The resulting census records are made available to the public 72 years after the census was taken. The 1940 census was made available April 2, 2012. The 1950 census will be available in 2022. Most of the 1890 census was destroyed after being damaged following a fire. Otherwise federal census records are presently available for all census years from 1790-1940. These records have been microfilmed and are kept by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). The microfilm rolls for census records 1790-1930 are available at NARA, NARA branches, and the LDS Family History Library. Digitized census records (with indexes) are available online from Ancestry, FamilySearch and others. There are also some microfilm indexes (from NARA) and book indexes. The 1940 census was released digitally on the Internet.

Some Free Online Census Records and Indexes

Ancestry's US Census Collection 1790-1940 - Online Images and Indexes (fee required)

Information Found in Census Records

Census records can be helpful for a genealogy research project because they group families together and they provide clues for further research. From 1790-1840 only the head of household is named in the census. Other family members are listed by age group and gender. Starting with 1850 all persons that were counted are named in the census. For a summary of what information is given for each person in each census year see... US Census Records - Research Tips & Clues 1790-1940

The census enumerator is the person who went around recording the people in the census. The enumerators were given detailed instructions by the Bureau of the Census. Reading these instructions can sometimes be helpful when examining the information given about people in census records, especially in the later years. See... Census Enumerator Instructions 1850-1950

State Census Records and Other Censuses

Some individual states took their own censuses between the federal census years. Sometimes you can find census records for certain states for 1885 and 1895. Some earlier and later state censuses also exist. Occasionally you may also find special censuses that were taken. For example, in New York City, a census was done for Manhattan in 1890. Some of these non-federal censuses can be helpful as substitutes for the missing 1890 federal census. These kinds of censuses are not available for all states. For more information see... Information On Some State Census Records

Census Mortality Schedules

For some states and some census years (1850-1880) the census enumerators recorded names and basic information of people who died in the year prior to the census being taken. For details see... US Census Records Mortality Schedules 1850-1880

Blank Census Forms

Free blank U.S. census forms can be downloaded from Ancestry here: Blank Census Forms
These are printable blank PDF forms for the 1790-1940 federal censuses plus the 1890 veterans census and 1850-1860 slave schedules

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