A Guide to Using U.S. Census Records

What is the U.S. Census?

The U.S. Census has been conducted every 10 years since 1790. The government is mandated by the U.S. Constitution to count every U.S. resident. Census records are restricted for a period of 72 years, which makes the 1940 census the most currently available collection. In 2022 the 1950 census will be released for public use.

Follow the links below to read about each Census, and to visit that year’s Census Records. Unfortunately, only the 1900 U.S. Census currently has an active link in our list below. We will be activating other census years over the next few weeks, so please be patient.

  • 1790 U.S. Census
  • 1800 U.S. Census
  • 1810 U.S. Census
  • 1820 U.S. Census
  • 1830 U.S. Census
  • 1840 U.S. Census
  • 1850 U.S. Census
  • 1860 U.S. Census
  • 1870 U.S. Census
  • 1880 U.S. Census
  • 1890 U.S. Census
  • 1900 U.S. Census
  • 1910 U.S. Census
  • 1920 U.S. Census
  • 1930 U.S. Census
  • 1940 U.S. Census

If you wish to search Census Records for years other than 1900, follow the link below to do free Census Record searches on the Family Search website. Note that you will need to create a free user account the first time you use the Family Search website.

What genealogy information is available in U.S. census records?

The U.S Census has evolved since first enacted in 1790. Censuses conducted prior to 1850 contain only very basic information, such as the name of the head of household and the number of males and females in the home. Beginning in 1850, enumeration schedules were expanded to include elements such as age, birthplace, military service, employment, and even health information.

Few census schedules are identical; both the type of data collected and the method of collection may differ by year. Several years also include special schedules for different segments of the population.

Although the census can provide many details about your family, always keep in mind that the data was provided by individuals and is prone to error. Enumerators also made mistakes. Transcriptions and spelling errors are common. When searching for your ancestors in the census, account for variations and misspellings in first and last names as well as ages and other data.

How do I search U.S. Census records online?

The United State Census Bureau conducts the census and the records are maintained by the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). Records can be accessed at the National Archives building in Washington D.C. and regional facilities throughout the United States. NARA does not currently have digitized census information on their website, but these records are available for free through partnering organizations online.

FamilySearch.org is completely free to use and provides access to most U.S. census records online. Some census records can also be found free of charge through Ancestry.com, while others can only be accessed with a paid Ancestry subscription. MyHeritage also offers all census records as part of their subscriptions. According to the NARA, all census records will eventually be digitized from microfilm and will be available to search through the NARA website as well.

Potential Search Problems

Errors in Spelling: One of the biggest problems in searching Census Records is the frequent erroneous spelling of names. Census Records are indexed by the last name, so if you are searching for the name “TeSelle”, you won’t find records where the last name was erroneously recorded as LeSelle, or Fasell, or Tasell, or other erroneous spellings. If you are fairly sure where a TeSelle lived in a census year, you may have to search through several census pages looking for the misspelled name that should have been TeSelle.

Lack of Maiden Names: A constant problem for genealogists is the lack of maiden names in official records. The U.S. Census is no different. Generally, all the members of a household are listed using the surname of the male head of household. In order to find your female ancestor whose maiden name is TeSelle, you need to know whom she married — that is where you will find her listed.

Americanized Names: The ancestor you know as “Jan Willem”, may be listed in the Census Records as “John William.” Or perhaps he now goes by the name William, since his father is called Jan or John. Census Records can be a puzzle, which can either be a frustration or a challenge — or both! Don’t give up. The information you are seeking is there somewhere.

As we get more insights, tips, and tricks for searching Census Records, we will pass them along to you.