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 1940 because of a 72-year restriction on access to the Census. Most researchers find it 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 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 1940, 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), etc.
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
How can I search the 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.
Contact State Archives, public libraries, historical societies, and other research facilities to see if they provide free access to Ancestry.com and Fold3.com.
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).
Please note, due to staffing limitations, the National Archives cannot conduct census research on your behalf.