Introduction to Census Records
You can start your Census records search with only
- the name of your relative or ancestor, and hopefully
- the state he or she resided in
The first Federal Population Census was taken in 1790, and has been taken every ten years since. However, data from recent censuses are not available after 1940 because of a 72-year restriction on access to the Census. Most researchers find it most helpful to begin with the 1940 Census and work backwards to locate people in earlier generations.
The National Archives has the census schedules on microfilm available from 1790 to 1940, and online access is available through our digitization partners (free at any National Archives facility).
See our Census Resources page to search the digitized records on our partners' websites.. (Please note: Most of the 1890 Census was destroyed in a Department of Commerce fire, though partial records are available for some states.)
What can the Census tell me?
Census records can provide the building blocks of your research, allowing you to both confirm information, and to learn more.
From 1850 to 1940, details are provided for all individuals in each household, such as:
- names of family members
- their ages at a certain point in time
- their state or country of birth
- their parent's birthplaces
- year of immigration
- street address
- marriage status and years of marriage
- value of their home and personal belongings
- the crops that they grew (in agricultural schedules), etc.
Not all of this kind of information is available in every census. Before the 1850 Census, few of these details were recorded. From 1790-1840, only the head of household is listed and the number of household members in selected age groups.
For specifics on what information was collected in each census year, see Availability of Census Records About Individuals
How can I search the Census Records?
You can access census records many different ways:
View digitized Census records online through one of our partners, linked from our Census Resources page.
View our complete list of Records Digitized by Our Digitization Partners
- Visit the National Archives Building in Washington, DC or one of our regional facilities located in Anchorage, Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Fort Worth, Kansas City, New York City, Philadelphia, Riverside, CA, San Francisco, and Seattle.
- Contact State Archives, public libraries, historical societies, and other research facilities to see of they provide free access to Ancestry.com and Fold3.
- Purchase digitized microfilm from us.
- Check with the USGenWeb project to see if census records from your states of interest have been transcribed (free of charge). See both http://www.us-census.org/ and http://www.rootsweb.com/~census/states.htm.
Please note, due to staffing limitations, the National Archives cannot conduct census research on your behalf.