About Census Records
Introduction to Census Records
You can start your census records search with only:
- The name of your relative or ancestor, and
- The state where he or she resided.
The first Federal Population Census was taken in 1790, and a census has been taken every ten years since. However, data from recent censuses are not available after 1950 because of a 72-year restriction on access to the Census. Most researchers find it helpful to begin with the 1950 Census and work backwards to locate people in earlier generations.
Digital images of census schedules are available from 1790 to 1950. Online access is available through our digitization partners (free at any National Archives facility) as well in the National Archives Catalog (selected census years). See our Census Resources page to search the digitized records on our and partners' websites. (Please note: Most of the 1890 Census was destroyed in a Department of Commerce fire in 1921, 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 both to confirm information and learn more.
From 1850 to 1950, details are provided for all individuals in each household. Details can include:
- Age at a certain point in time
- State or country of birth
- Parents' birthplace(s)
- Year of immigration (if relevant)
- Street address
- Marriage status and years of marriage (if relevant)
- Value of home and personal belongings
- Crops grown (in agricultural schedules) or products made (in manufacturing schedules)
Not all of this information is available in every census. Before the 1850 Census, few of these details were recorded. From 1790 to 1840, only the head of household is listed by name; other household members are merely counted in selected age groups.
For specifics on what information was collected in each census year, see Availability of Census Records About Individuals
1880 Census FAQs (coming soon!)
1900 Census FAQs (coming soon!)
1910 Census FAQs (coming soon!)
1920 Census FAQs (coming soon!)
1960 Census FAQs (coming soon!)
How can I search Census Records?
You can access census records in a variety of ways:
Visit the National Archives Building in Washington, DC, or one of our regional facilities located in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Fort Worth, Kansas City, New York City, Philadelphia, Riverside, San Francisco, and Seattle for free access to Ancestry.com and Fold3.com and to census microfilm (availability varies).
Contact State Archives, public libraries, historical societies, and other research facilities to see if they provide free access to Ancestry.com and Fold3.com.
Please note, that due to staffing limitations, the National Archives cannot conduct census research on your behalf.