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You can access census information on microfilm at National Archives and Records Administration research facilities, the Family History Library and large genealogy libraries. Public and university libraries and state archives may have microfilmed census records for the region or state. Local Family History Centers sometimes have census microfilm covering the area where they’re located.
Census data from various counties and states are available in published collections such as Tennessee 1850 Census Index (Heritage Quest) or Greene County, Pennsylvania, 1820 Census by Mary E. Shultz (Heritage Books) and on a variety of free volunteer-transcription sites, such as USGenWeb.
The FamilySearch Record Search Pilot Site has expanded its census coverage to include indexes for 1880 and 1920, and indexes and record images for 1850, 1860, 1870 and 1900. Subscription site Ancestry.com offers images and indexes for every census from 1790 through 1930; subscription site Footnote plans to add the entire run of the census to its 1860 and 1930 records and indexes. Your library may even subscribe to HeritageQuest Online, which has images for 1790 through 1930 and head-of-household indexes for some.
Visit your library to see if it subscribes to Ancestry Library Edition, a version of Ancestry.com that includes all the census records. Your library or Family History Center may offer patrons the use of Footnote.
From the May 2010 Family Tree Magazine