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US Census Records - Exploring the United States Census

What? - Where? - Why?

Looking for your ancestors in the US census records? Lots of things here to consider and check! We tell you how.

1910 Young boy portrait
1910 Young boy portrait

The first US census records date from 1790. There has been an population enumeration in the United States every 10th year since then.

There is a confidentiality requirement for the United States census which means that no census can be released to the public until 72 years have passed since its enumeration. This means that, today, the last US census that is available is the one for 1930.

The 1940 US census is the latest released and is now available through the National Archives.

What Is In the US Census Records?

The early censuses were head of household only. This means there was a single line in the census for the entire family with the only name recorded being that of the head of the household being enumerated, usually defined as the husband.

Later, the US censuses became an every person listing, with each member of the household getting an individual line on the census form. This allows you to track the changes in the household to a greater degree than was possible before this time.

Slaves were nearly always counted simply by number, and almost never by names. For example, there would be an entry for the number of male slaves between 5 and 14 years of age. So, using the census to track a slave family is a difficult proposition, if not an absolute impossibility.

Beginning with the 1870 census, slavery was not longer legal, and those who had been freed were listed by name on a separate line in the household in which they resided. There were no longer any separate slave schedules.

Here for detailed US Census Questions

Where Do You Find the US Census Records

If you want to check the census information for your ancestors, and you have fairly accurate knowledge of where they resided at the time of the census, you may check for them in several locations.

Why Are the US Census Records Important To You?

The amount and type of information that appears on a census varies according to census year. However, there is always the basic information of how many people lived in the home.

Once the census became an every name list, you gain information about each individual - at a minimum this is a name, gender, and age or birth date. However, many of the US census records contain additional information such as occupation, ability to read/write, immigration year, birthplace of parents, and whether attending school among other things.

Additionally, you can track families or members of families as they moved from one location to another, perhaps for land becoming available, a job opportunity, or a marriage or death. It is fascinating to watch a family as the children grow older, move out and marry and have families of their own. Sometimes that move is down the road, and sometimes it is across the country.

Whatever the census year, the information you can get from finding your family in the census gives you more information about the daily lives of your ancestors. You may find one of your families had "itchy feet" and moved around a great deal. Another family may still be on the original homestead.

Be Persistent - There is Usually a Big Payoff!



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How there's so much free information on this site ...

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