Starting with the census
Federal census records start in 1790, just after the federal government was created. Since then, the census has been taken every 10 years to determine apportionment in the House of Representatives. At first, census questions were limited—basically, the head of household’s name, the number of free males and females in the household and the number of slaves.
By 1850, the census named all free persons with their ages and birthplaces (country or state). The 1870 census was the first to name the recently freed slaves and show their family groups. Beginning in 1880, the census gave the birthplace (country or state) of each person’s parents and, importantly, the relationship of each person to the head of household: wife, son, granddaughter, mother-in-law, etc. The 1900 census gave the month and year of birth.
How to find ancestors in census records
Ancestor information to look for in the census
More resources for researching genealogy in US censuses
- Census Records Workbook digital download: Family Tree Magazine‘s easy-to-follow guide with everything you need to know about researching in census records
- Census Problems and Solutions for Genealogy on-demand webinar: a video class that helps you work through discovering hard-to-find in censuses
- Special Censuses Workbook digital download: a guide to finding and using special censuses—such as farming, manufacturing, slave, mortality, military and other schedules—that may have information your ancestors
- State Censuses Research Guide digital download: Many US states took censuses, too! This guide will help you research them