Genealogy & Family History Research: U.S. Census Records

Resources, tips, and tutorials for conducting genealogy research, with an emphasis on U.S. genealogy.

The U.S. Decennial Census

U.S. Census Bureau SealThe federal Decennial Census, also referred to as a population census or population schedule, has been conducted every 10 years since 1790.

All records, up to 1940, are publicly available, however much of the 1890 U.S. Census was destroyed in a 1921 fire in the Commerce Building.

The 1950 U.S. Census, and subsequent decades, are kept confidential to protect the privacy of individuals listed who are likely to still be living. Every 72 years (after enumeration), the Census Bureau releases another Census. The 1940 Census was released April 2, 2012.

Infographic provided by the U.S. Census Bureau.

U.S. Census Infographic

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Finding & Analyzing U.S. Decennial Census Records

Free FamilySearch Help Tutorials

The FamilySearch Help Center has an excellent 5-part series of multimedia lessons on the federal population census. The lessons provide extensive details about each federal population census, from the 1930 census, back in time to the first federal census in 1790. The series was produced prior to the release of the 1940 census. The total series runs l 2-1/2 hours.

These are Flash-based, so your browser may require that you first install  the Adobe Flash Player plugin. Click on “View This Lesson” to access each lesson, when you are directed below to each lesson web page.

Census Reference Tools

These tools are useful for understanding the questions being asked in each census, and how the data was suppose to be recorded.

Population censuses taken in the post-Civil War era.


The 1940 U.S. Population Census

The 1940 U.S. Decennial Census is the first one to identify which family member spoke to the enumerator. 

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The 1930 U.S. Population Census

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The 1920 U.S. Population Census

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The 1910 U.S. Population Census

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The 1900 U.S. Population Census

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The 1890 U.S. Population Census

The majority of the 1890 federal census was destroyed in 1921 from a fire in the U.S. Commerce Department Building. Watching Lesson 3 of the multimedia lessons discussed in the "Overview" tab of this box will explain more about what parts of the census survived, and how to find census "substitute" records (alternative record collections) for the impacted states and counties.

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The 1880 U.S. Population Census

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Population censuses taken in the Civil War era.


The 1870 U.S. Population Census

The 1870 U.S. Decennial Census is the first federal census recorded after the Civil War, and is consequently the first on which former slaves are identified by name.

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Population censuses taken in the Civil War era.


The 1860 U.S. Population Census

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The 1860 population census also included a separate slave schedule. The slave schedule is available from Ancestry.com ($), as well as from Ancestry Library Edition and HeritageQuest Online through subscribing libraries.

Population censuses taken in the Civil War era.


The 1850 U.S. Population Census

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The 1850 population census also included a separate slave schedule. The slave schedule is available from FamilySearch (free) Ancestry.com ($), as well as from Ancestry Library Edition and HeritageQuest Online through subscribing libraries.

The 1850 census was also the first federal census to identify the names of all members of the household.

Population censuses taken in the pre-Civil War era.

These earliest U.S. Decennial Censuses did not identify family members by name, making them particularly challenging to work with. Only the head of household is identified by name; others are referenced by tick marks.


The 1840 U.S. Population Census

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The 1830 U.S. Population Census

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The 1820 U.S. Population Census

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The 1810 U.S. Population Census

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The 1800 U.S. Population Census

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The 1790 U.S. Population Census

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