Native American Heritage

National Archives Identifier: 285669

Census Records

Indian Census Rolls and Federal Population Censuses

Indian Census Rolls, 1885–1940

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Little Chief, his wife Minnie, and son

Agents and superintendents at American Indian reservations annually submitted census rolls starting in 1885. These rolls include individuals and families who maintained a formal connection with federally recognized tribes.

Compared to the population census, the questions found on the Indian Census Rolls and the process for collecting the information were not standardized, and therefore vary between years, tribes, and agents and superintendents. Annual censuses were discontinued in 1940.

Please note: there is not a census for every reservation or every tribe for every year.

The Indian Census Rolls are digitized and available online through multiple sources. To research these records, you will need the name of the individual or family. Knowing their tribal affiliation and where they lived can also be helpful.


Federal Population Censuses, 1790–1950

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Watson family, ca. 1897

Taken every ten years, the federal population census can provide the building blocks for your research, allowing you to confirm information and learn more about an individual or family. Currently, researchers can access the censuses from 1790 through 1950.

Researchers generally begin with the most recent census and work backwards in ten-year increments to locate individuals or families in previous generations. To search you will need the name and location of the individual or family. Try to find your individual or family in as many censuses as possible because certain questions changed between censuses.

Federal population census are digitized and available online through multiple sources. However, the National Archives does not have online name indexes to census records. Please visit our partner organizations for digitized images and indexes.