Census Records


Census Records

In the United States, a census is taken every 10 years to survey the people living in the US. It began in 1790 and continues today. Due to the privacy act, we only have access up to the 1920 census. The 1930 census is now out and can be accessed online at Ancestry.com or in Salt Lake City at the Family History Library for no charge or at a local Family History Library near you for a small fee. Look in your local phone book under Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints to find a Family History Library near you.

Please note: Every census up through 1850 on the federal level has been indexed. The 1850 census index was done by a company out of Salt Lake City, UT and is subject to error. Just because the person you seek is not there doesn't mean they weren't there. Search the census yourself as a last resort before you spend hundreds of hours and hundreds of dollars searching elsewhere.

Also be aware that most census were taken in pencil, on blue paper and they microfilmed very poorly and are difficult to read. A lot of the indexes are in error and you need to search for alternative spellings of surnames. For instance, if a German man was taking the census of the Irish section of town in Dubuque, Iowa, he probably couldn't understand them very well with a heavy accent and wrote whatever he could understand. Some handwriting was very good, some was absolutely terrible. If you can't read it, ask for a second opinion of it.

Census Year Contents & Categories Miscellaneous Info.
  • Head of household only one listed
  • 2 groups of males listed: free white males 16 and older and free white males under 16
  • Free white females
  • Slaves

Census exists for:Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Vermont
The destroyed censuses:
Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, New Jersey, Tennessee. The Virginia census was destroyed, but was reconstructed from taxation lists.
  • Head of household was only listed
  • Free white males listed: under 10; 10-16; 16-26; 26-45; 45 or older
  • Free white females were grouped into the same age categories
  • Number of other free persons (does not include Indians because they were not taxed)
  • Number of Slaves
  • Place of residence
The names are listed in order in which the enumerator took the information. This keeps the proximity of families living near each other intact and allows us to assume that families with the same surname living in close proximity are likey part of the same extended family.
1820 This census was the same as 1800-1810 except it now offers an age category for males 16-18. Note:This overlaps the category for males 16-26. New information includes:
  • Number of individuals not naturalized
  • Number in agriculture, commerce or manufacturing
  • Number of "colored" persons
  • Number of other persons (does not include Indians because they were not taxed)
1830-1840 These two censuses expanded the age groups into smaller divisions. The categories for the males and females were the same: under 5; 5-10; 10-15; 15-20; then in 10 year increments to 100; and over 100. The number of those who were "deaf, dumb, and blind" and the number of aliens were listed. In addition, the number of slaves and free colored persons were included by age categories. This census added a column for the names and ages of military war pensioners (mainly Revolutionary war), those who could not read and write, the number of insane, and several other categories.
1850 This is the census that started listing the names and ages of each person living in the household. In addition, the following was also listed:
  • Gender and color
  • Occupation
  • Value of real estate
  • Birthplace
  • Whether married within the year or attended school within the year
  • Whether they could read and write (if over 20)
  • Anyone deaf-mute, blind, insane, idiotic, or convicted
  • A separate schedule for slaves was included in this census
Be sure to closely look at the names and ages of the people in the household. Many times, an older parent lived with their children. Alternatively, other residents could be boarders or laborers.

Remember to look at 5 families on either side of your ancestors, as often families lived in close proximity to each other.
1860-1870 These censuses were nearly the same as the 1850 census, but it added columns for the value of personal property and paupers. The 1870 census added columns for foreign-born parents. When a child was born within the year of the census, the month was included.
1880 Similar to the 1850-1870 censuses, but added the relationship of the individuals in the household to the head of the household. Also added were columns for the birhplace of the father and the mother (sometimes these were not correct, so be careful). Only families with children under the age of 10 are listed on the 1880 soundex because the government needed a way to determine who was eligible for Social Security benefits. All people are listed in the actual census.
1890 This census was nearly all destroyed by a fire on 21 January 1921. All that survived was a part of a special census taken for Union soldiers and their widows. It is available on the National Archives micropublication M407.
1900 The month and year of birth were added to this census. Also added were columns for following valuable information:
  • Number of years married
  • How many children born to mother
  • How many of above children still living
Immigrants were tracked closely. The year of their entry, the length of time in the US, and whether they were naturalized or not was also recorded.
1910 This census added a column for Civil war veterans. Unfortunately, this census does not have a complete soundex, but the actual census is complete.
1920 The year of immigration, whether naturalized, and the year of naturalization were added to this census.

Note: The 1930 census was released in 2002. Information on a deceased relative can be requested, but it will not be the full listing. To order an application for a search of the 1930 census, write to the Bureau of Census at the following address:

Bureau of Census
P.O. Box 1545
Jefferson, IN

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