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Pollak Library

African American Family History

The U.S. Decennial Population 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. It is mandated by Article I, Section 2 of the  U.S. Constitution, and is supposed to count every person living in the United States.

Statistical data is available for the most recent censuses (as well as older censuses).

However, access to the original population census manuscript records is restricted for privacy reasons, to protect the individuals who are listed in the census and are likely to still be living. The U.S. Census Bureau employs a "72 Year Rule," making the original manuscript records available 72 years after the enumeration date, through the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). A FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request must be filed to gain access to original records that are younger than 72 years old.

All manuscript records, up to 1950, are publicly available, however much of the 1890 U.S. Census was destroyed in a 1921 fire in the Commerce Building. The 1950 Census was released April 1, 2022. The 1960 census will be released by NARA in April 2032. 

Infographic provided by the U.S. Census Bureau.

U.S. Census Infographic

Finding & Analyzing U.S. Decennial Population Census Records

This section of the guild will help you locate and analyze digitized copies of the U.S. federal population census manuscript records. Each tab to the left focuses on a particular series of census records. Because genealogy research should always be conducted working from the present to back in time, the census record collections are listed in reverse chronological order.

Using the U.S. Federal Census for Genealogy

This short 2-1/2 minute video lesson by Ancestry Academy explains why the U.S. decennial census Is so valuable for genealogical research.

U.S. 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 1950 U.S. Census


The 1950 census manuscript records were released to the public online by NARA on April 1, 2022 at midnight Eastern time that morning. NARA's digitized collection is partially name-searchable, indexed through artificial intelligence (AI) handwriting recognition software. Ancestry and FamilySearch completed indexing their own collections by the end of 2022, both of which are fully name-searchable now.

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. 

The 1930 U.S. Population Census

The 1920 U.S. Population Census

The 1910 U.S. Population Census

The 1900 U.S. Population Census

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.

The 1880 U.S. Population Census

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. It is the first U.S. census that attempted to record by name every individual living in the U.S.

Population censuses taken in the Civil War era.

The 1860 U.S. Population Census

The 1860 population census also included a separate slave schedule. The slave schedule is available from ($), 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

The 1850 population census also included a separate slave schedule. The slave schedule is available from FamilySearch (free) ($), 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 these records particularly challenging to work with. Only the head of household is identified by name. Other household members are referenced by tick marks, in gender and age groupings.

The 1840 U.S. Population Census

The 1830 U.S. Population Census

The 1820 U.S. Population Census

The 1810 U.S. Population Census

The 1800 U.S. Population Census

The 1790 U.S. Population Census and FamilySearch do not have exclusive access to the digitized U.S. federal census manuscript collections, but since those two repositories are the ones that classes and students I work with most often use, the tabs to the left emphasize those repositories so that the students can easily access a particular census collection.

These other major repositories also provide access to the digitized collections.

Repositories Available through Many Public Libraries

The links below direct you to a list I have complied of southern California libraries that provide access to one or more of these subscription databases.

Repositories Available with a Paid Subscription

These paid subscription-based digital repositories provide access to U.S. federal population censuses.