As a genealogist, you’re always looking for ways to either get new data or validate information you already have — and you can count on census records to help you do that. If you know your ancestors came to America in 1845 but can’t find their immigration records, you can check the next available census: 1850. The US government started going door to door to count the country’s population in 1790, and in accordance with federal law, has taken censuses every 10 years since.
Though census records weren’t designed with future genealogists in mind, they provide numerous details about your ancestors. Throughout the years, the amount of information collected by the US Census Bureau has grown steadily: Enumerators posed just six questions in the nation’s inaugural census; the 2000 long-form questionnaire contained 53.
When you’re looking for census records, note that the government didn’t give uniform instructions to census takers until 1850, so the content and format prior to that date may vary. And unfortunately, most of the 1890 census burned in a Commerce Department fire in 1921. To supplement the national enumerations, try looking at state censuses, which were taken between federal ones.
Web Sites: Research helps and portals
• 1930 Census
<1930census.archives.gov>: NARA’s “comprehensive guide” gives search strategies and answers to frequently asked questions about the most recent census open to the public.
• A Beginner’s Guide to the US Federal Censuses
<www.tngenweb.org/cntylinks/tutorial.html>: Check this site for basic information about census takers, places to find censuses and more.
• Census Facts
<www.heritagequest.com/censusfacts>: Find out what information each federal census collected, the states and territories covered and other census specifics.
• Census Finder
<www.censusfinder.com>: Pick a state from the pull-down menu for links to online record sources.
• Census Links
<www.censuslinks.com>: Click the United States link, then select a state and county to surf related census material.
• Census Online
<www.census-online.com>: You’ll find links to enumerations on both free and subscription Web sites.
• Census Records: Introduction and Links to Resources
<www.archives.gov/research_room/genealogy/research_topics/census_records.html>: Access NARA’s online guide to getting and using federal census records.
• Cyndi’s List — US Census
<www.cyndislist.com/census.htm>: Link to census help sites and records sources, organized by year.
• Enumeration Forms
<www.ipums.umn.edu/usa/voliii/tEnumForm.html>: Find the forms and instructions given to census takers for the 1860 to 2000 federal censuses.
• Family Tree Magazine Forms
<www.familytreemagazine.com/forms/download.html>: Download free extraction worksheets for every federal census.
• FamilySearch: Research Helps
<www.familysearch.org/eng/search/rg/frameset_rhelps.asp>: Select Sorted by Subject to get to an alphabetical subject index where you can locate links to census research guides for each state.
• Historical Census Browser
<fisher.lib.virginia.edu/collections/stats/histcensus>: You won’t find data on your ancestors, but the information presented here describes the population and economy of US states and counties from 1790 to 1960.
• Obtaining EDs for the Census in One Step
Web Sites: Federal census indexes and images
<www.afrigeneas.com/aacensus>: View African-American census schedules and records by state.
• Allcensus $
<www.allcensus.com>: Request lookups for the 1881 Canadian census or click on a US state and peruse county listings. You can buy CDs of your state’s records here, too.
<Ancestry.com >: Search images of all available US censuses with a US subscription. Ancestry.com’s offers every-name indexes covering 1790 to 1930. The site has head-of-household indexes for all other census years.
• Census View $
<www.censusview.org>: Order CDs with images of various census records.
• FamilySearch: Census Records
<www.familysearch.org>: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints volunteers have transcribed the complete 1880 US census. Search for any name — not just heads of household — and you’ll get an electronic copy of that person’s complete census entry, linked to entries for the entire household. If you’re researching at one of the church’s Family History Centers, you can click directly to Ancestry.com’s 1880 census images for free; otherwise, you have to pay a fee. Census images and indexes for other years are being added.
• Genealogy.com Genealogy Library $
<www.genealogy.com>: This $49.99 annual subscription includes images of the 1850 US census and head-of-household indexes for censuses from 1790 to 1870.
• Genealogy.com US Census Collection $
<www.genealogy.com>: View images of all extant federal census records; head-of-household indexes cover 1790 to 1820, 1860, 1870 and 1900 to 1920. The images and indexes in this collection ($99.99 per year) are identical to those on HeritageQuest Online (below) — the result of a licensing arrangement between the two companies.
• Orphans’ Home Web Site
<freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.com/∼orphanshome>: View state-by-state transcriptions of orphans, adoptees and foster children recorded in the US and Canadian censuses.
• Searching the US Census by Name in One Step
• USGenWeb Archives
<www.rootsweb.com/∼usgenweb/cen_img.htm>: Find census-page images (you also can volunteer to index the images) for most states, though some states have only a handful of counties and years.
• USGenWeb Census Project
<www.us-census.org>: USGenNet, a splinter group from the original USGenWeb, offers a search form and a chart of available transcriptions and scanned images.
• USGenWeb Census Project
Web Sites: State indexes and images
• 1849 Minnesota Territorial Census
<www.parkbooks.com/Html/res_18∼1.html>: Look for your Minnesota ancestors in this online copy of the state’s first territorial census, reprinted from the Minnesota Genealogical Journal.
• 1880 Census Records of Montana
<www.rootsweb.com/∼mtyellow/census1880/census-list.htm>: Download a free alphabetical list of 22,666 residents (of the 39,159 total) enumerated in the 1880 Montana Territory census.
• Colorado State Archives: 1870 Census Index
<www.colorado.gov/dpa/doit/archives/1870>: Click on an alphabetical surname range and look for your ancestor in this browsable index.
• Dakota Territory 1860 Census
<www.rootsweb.com/cgi-bin/sdcensus/sd1860cen.pl>: Search this pre-statehood enumeration by surname.
• Dakota Territory 1885 Census
<www.lib.ndsu.nodak.edu/ndirs/databases/census.php>: This database covers all of present-day North Dakota. Search by name, birthplace or residence.
• Historic Pittsburgh Census Schedules
<digital.library.pitt.edu/census/census_name.html>: Search federal census data for Pittsburgh from 1850 to 1880, and Allegheny City from 1850 through 1870.
• Idaho State Historical Society: 1890 Idaho Census
<www.idahohistory.net/1890_census.cfm>: View a copy of the 1890 census index, recently reconstructed by volunteers, covering select Idaho counties.
• Illinois Trails: Census by County
<www.iltrails.org/ilcens.htm>: This Prairie State Web site provides links to statewide census data, including listings by county. You can get census extraction forms here, too.
• Kansas Census — Federal and State, 1855 to 1930
<www.kshs.org/genealogists/census/kansas>: The Kansas State Historical Society offers a smattering of online indexes to state and federal censuses. Click on the link for each census year to find out what’s available.
• Library of Michigan 1870 Census Index
<envoy.libofmich.lib.mi.us/1870_census>: You can search this index by name, county or township.
• Maryland State Archives Census Indexes
<www.mdarchives.state.md.us/msa/refserv/html/censussearch.html>: Search indexes of the 1776 and 1778 state censuses, the 1870 federal census for 22 counties plus Baltimore, and the 1880 federal census for Anne Arundel County.
• Nevada’s Online Census Database
<dmla.clan.lib.nv.us/docs/shpo/nvcensus>: The Silver State is the first to put all its federal census data online — 1860, 1870, 1880, 1900, 1910 and 1920.
• New York State Census
<www.frontiernet.net/∼halsey1/ny/ny-census.htm>: This informative site provides microfilm numbers for New York state censuses. It also links to data for the 1720 Albany, 1714 Dutchess, 1702 Orange and 1689 Ulster county censuses.
• Oregon State Archives: Census Records
<arcweb.sos.state.or.us/censuslist.html>: Access indexes to state censuses for the years 1865, 1875, 1885 and 1895.
• Pellien Enterprises $
<www.pellien.com/genealogy_ services.htm>: Search free online indexes to 1910 federal records for New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont. For $10, Pellien Enterprises (formerly at <www.census4all.com>) will search other states’ records for you.
• Special Maine 1837 Census
<www.rootsweb.com/∼meandrhs/history/usdebt/census/maine/1837.html>: To view data from this enumeration, select a locality. Find links to special censuses for Wisconsin Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Oregon, Florida and the Dakotas at the bottom of the page.
• Utah Census Search
<www.xmission.com/∼nelsonb/census_search.htm>: Look for Utah Territory ancestors from 1850 to 1880.
• Washington Historical Records Search
<www.secstate.wa.gov/history/search.aspx>: Scour territorial census records from 1847 to 1892, plus the entire 1910 census of Washington. The state posts images of census pages at <www.secstate.wa.gov/history/search_originals.aspx>, but they’re not linked to the index.
Canadian and UK records
• 1901 Census for England and Wales $
<www.1901census.nationalarchives.gov.uk>: Search this census index for free (warning: it’s notorious for errors), then pay about to see transcribed details on a person and view a record image.
• Ancestry.com UK and Ireland Collection $
<Ancestry.com >: A subscription gets you linked images and indexes for the 1871, 1891 and 1901 censuses of England, Wales, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.
• Automated Genealogy
<automatedgenealogy.com>: So far, this index to the 1901 Canadian census has 5.6 million lines transcribed. Search on a name, then use the geographic data to find a record image at the National Archives of Canada Web site <www.collectionscanada.ca>, which you can search by location only.
• British Origins: England and Wales Census 1841 $
<www.britishorigins.com>: For a yearly fee, you can search the earliest enumeration to list everyone living at a residence, rather than just the head of household.
• FamilySearch: Census Records
<www.familysearch.org>: To search the entire 1881 British and Canadian censuses for free, click on the Search tab, then on Census.
• FreeCen: UK Census Online
<freecen.rootsweb.com>: This database results from a volunteer project to transcribe the 1841 through 1871 and 1891 UK censuses. Click on Database Coverage to see progress on your ancestral county.
• The Genealogist $
<www.thegenealogist.co.uk>: The Census Name-Indexing Project has transcribed 1841 to 1901 UK census information and made it available online. To view an index for a county during a particular census year, you need to purchase a subscription.
• The American Census Handbook by Thomas Jay Kemp (SR Books, $29.95)
• The American Census: A Social History by Margo J. Anderson (Yale University Press, out of print)
• The Census Book: A Genealogist’s Guide to Federal Census Facts, Schedules and Indexes by William Dollarhide (Heritage Quest, $24.95)
• The Census Tables for the French Colony of Louisiana From 1699 Through 1732 by Charles R. Maduell Jr. (Genealogical Publishing Co., out of print)
• A Century of Population Growth from the First Census of the United States to the Twelfth, 1790-1900 by the Bureau of the Census (Genealogical Publishing Co., out of print)
• The Family Tree Resource Book for Genealogists edited by Sharon DeBartolo Carmack and Erin Nevius (Family Tree Books)
• Finding Answers in US Census Records by Loretto Dennis Szucs and Matthew Wright (Ancestry,)
• Map Guide to the U.S. Federal Censuses, 1790-1920 by William Thorndale and William Dollarhide (Genealogical Publishing Co.)
• Measuring America: The Decennial Censuses From 1790 to 2000 (US Government Printing Office <bookstore.gpo.gov>)
• State Census Records by Ann S. Lainhart (Genealogical Publishing Co.)
• Your Guide to the Federal Census by Kathleen W. Hinckley (Betterway Books)
• Family History Library
35 N. West Temple St., Salt Lake City, UT 84150, (800) 346-6044, <www.familysearch.org>: To find a branch Family History Center near you, click on the Library tab, then Family History Centers.
• National Archives and Records Administration
700 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20408, (866) 272-6272, <www.archives.gov>
• UK National Archives