United States Federal Census

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Background[edit | edit source]

Census records give valuable information about your ancestors including: names of family members, residence, year and sometimes month of birth, birthplace (state), and occupation. Some censuses reveal even the parents' birthplace (state). Finding ancestors in all the available censuses during their lifetime is an important step to building a more complete picture of their lives. It greatly enhances a researcher's ability to identify other likely sources of information.

The first U.S. federal census was in 1790 and there has been one every ten years since. The censuses through 1940 are available to the public. These counted the population as of the following dates:

1790-1820: First Monday in August
1830-1900: June 1 (June 2 in 1890)
1910: April 15
1920: January 1
1930: April 1
1940: April 1

The following types of schedules were taken in various years:

  • Population--(residents in an area) in all years. A census is a count and description of the population of a country, colony, territory, state, county, or city. Census lists are also called “schedules." The federal population schedules are especially valuable because they list such a large proportion of the population, most are well-indexed, and they are readily available at many repositories.
The National Archives and the Family History Library have complete sets of the existing 1790 to 1940 censuses on over 18,000 microfilms. These are listed in the Place Search of the FamilySearch Catalog under [STATE] - CENSUS - [YEAR]. Most state archives and university libraries also have copies of the census microfilms, particularly for their own states. (See the state Wiki pages for more information about each state.) If you can provide the specific pages, the National Archives and the Family History Library will make photocopies.

Other federal schedules usually taken at the same time as the population schedules may include:

  • Mortality--Persons who died during the 12 months prior to the census, from 1850 to 1885
  • Veterans--Mostly Union veterans and their widows in 1840 and 1890
  • Slaves--Slave owners and the number of slaves they owned, in 1850 and 1860
  • Agricultural--Data on farms and the names of the farmers, from 1850 to 1880
  • Manufacturing--Data on businesses and industries, 1810 (fragments only), 1820, and 1850 to 1880
  • Defective, Dependent, and Delinquent--handicapped, paupers, or criminals in 1880
  • Indian Schedules--Special questions after the 1910 county population schedules
  • Institutions--jail, hospital, poor house, or asylum usually after county population schedules
  • Merchant seamen--on U.S. flag merchant vessels in 1930
  • Military and Naval Forces--forts, bases, and Navy ships after population schedules, or from 1900 to 1930 on separate films for overseas
  • Social Statistics--real estate, annual taxes, cemeteries, school statistics, libraries, newspapers, churches

Content[edit | edit source]

You will find the following types of information in the population censuses:

1950 through 2010--These records are not generally available until 72 years after the enumeration. (The 1940 census was released on April 2, 2012.) However, it is possible to obtain individual records for legal purposes. To do this, go to the U.S. Census Bureau Genealogy site, click on the Age Search Service, and follow their instructions. There is a $65.00 fee for this service.

1940--The 1940 Census asks questions on 1930 census.  It also asks location of residence 5 years ago, if at work, whether in private or government work, weeks worked last year, along with wage and salary income last year.

1930--The 1930 census asks questions on the 1920 census, and also asks for marital status and if married, age at first marriage. If you are Indian it asks whether you are full blooded or mixed blood and for your tribal affiliation.

1920--The 1920 census asks questions on the 1910 census. It gives ages but not the month and year of birth. It also lists the year of naturalization, the only census to do so.

1900-1910--The 1900 and 1910 censuses ask questions on the 1880 census, but also include the age of each individual, how many years he had been married, his year of immigration, and his citizenship status. The 1900 census also gives the month and year of birth. For mothers it lists the number of children born and surviving. The 1910 census identifies Civil War veterans.

1880 and later--The 1880 and later censuses add the birthplaces (country or state only) of each person's parents to the 1870 questions. They also identify relationships to the head-of-house.

1870--The 1870 census adds an indication if the individual's parents were foreign born to the 1860 and 1850 questions.

1850 and later--The 1850 and later censuses list the names, ages, occupations, and birthplaces (country or state only) of each member of a household.

1790 to 1840--The population schedules for the 1790 to 1840 censuses give the name of the head of each household, and the number of others in the house grouped by ages and sex.

Information in Censuses 1790 to 2010 also lists the questions answered in each censuses year.

Availability[edit | edit source]

United States Censuses 1850-1940—Free Internet census indexes and images to the 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880 (index only)1890,  1900, 1910, 1920,  1930and 1940 can be viewed on the FamilySearch Record Search. These indexes show every name listed on the census and except for 1880 and 1920 are also linked to census images including information about each person’s residence, age, birthplace, occupation, other family members, and neighbors.

Ancestry, a subscription Internet site, has online images and indexes for all available 1790-1930 population schedules, 1850 and 1860 slave schedules, most 1850 to 1885 mortality schedules, surviving 1890 veteran's schedules (except Ohio and Pennsylvania), and the 1930 merchant seamen schedules. 

Heritage Quest, a subscription Internet site, has online images for all available 1790 to 1930 federal population schedules, and 1850 and 1860 slave schedules. They also have indexes for some years.

See United States Census Online for further details.

1890 Surviving schedules--The 1890 population schedule was destroyed by fire except for 6,160 names. The following population schedules have survived for the 1890 federal census:

  • Alabama--Perry County, Perryville beat number 11 and Severe beat number 8.
    District of Columbia-- Q. Thirteenth, Fourteenth, R.Q. Corcoran, Fifteenth,S.R., Riggs Streets, Johnson  Avenue, S Street
  • Georgia--Muscogee County, Columbus Township
  • Illinois--McDonough County, Mound Township.
  • Minnesota--Wright County, Rockford Township.
  • New Jersey--Hudson County, Jersey City
  •  New York--Suffolk County, Brookhaven Township, Westchester County, Eastchester Township.
  • North Carolina--Gaston County, South Point, River Bend Townships, Cleveland County,Township No. 2
  • Ohio--Hamilton County, Cincinnati, Clinton County, Wayne Township
  • South Dakota--Union County, Jefferson Township
  • Texas--Ellis County, J.P. No. 6, Mountain Peak, Ovilla Precinct, Hood County, Precinct No. 5, Rusk County, No. 6, J.P. No. 7, Trinity County, Trinity Town, Precinct No. 2, Kaufman County, Kaufman

1885 Census--In 1885 the federal government helped five states or territories conduct a special census with population and mortality schedules. The Family History Library has microfilm copies of the 1885 census for Colorado, Florida, Nebraska, New Mexico, and Dakota Territory.

Censuses and other records that were microfilmed by the National Archives can be rented through them at: National Archives microfilm rental.

Enumeration Districts[edit | edit source]

Federal census records are arranged by census year, by state, and then usually alphabetically by the name of the county. The term subdivision was used in early censuses to refer to part of a supervisor's or marshall's district. Beginning in 1880, these geographical areas were called enumeration districts. If there is no index to a census and you know the address in a large city or county where an individual lived, you can use the descriptions of the geographical areas or enumeration districts to more quickly search the census. These are listed in the Place Search of the Family History Library under UNITED STATES - CENSUS - YEAR:

1880 enumeration district descriptions (FHL 1402860-62)
1900 enumeration district descriptions (FHL 1303019-28)
1910 enumeration district descriptions (FHL 1374001-13)
1920 enumeration district descriptions (FHL 1842702-21)

For the 1910 census there is an index on 51 fiche that can help you identify the enumeration districts by address in 39 cities. (If you need to learn an individual's address, see the “Directories” page of the United States Wiki pages.) This index is the:

  • United States. Bureau of the Census. Cross Index to Selected City Streets and Enumeration Districts. (Washington, DC: National Archives, [1984]). (FHL 6331480-81 [set of 51].)

Ward Maps--The Library of Congress has detailed ward maps of major cities. These show the census districts and political divisions of large cities. The Family History Library has:

  • Ward Maps of United States Cities: Microfilm Reproduction of 232 Maps Described in Ward Maps of United States Cities. (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, [1975?]). (Film FHL 1377700; Fiche FHL 6016554-782.)

A description of each map and a chart that shows which maps to use with each U.S. census is in:

  • Michael H. Shelley, Ward Maps of United States Cities: A Selective Checklist of Pre-1900 Maps in the Library of Congress. (Washington, D.C.: no publisher listed, 1975). (Book FHL 973 A1 no. 99; Film FHL 928120 item 16.)

County boundary maps--These mapsare available for each census year, 1790 to 1920:

  • William Thorndale, and William Dollarhide. Map Guide to the U.S. Federal Censuses, 1790-1920. (Baltimore: Genealogical Publ., 1987). (FHL 973 X2th.) WorldCat entry. This source also includes helpful information about the availability of census records.

Indexes[edit | edit source]

On the Internet[edit | edit source]

United States Censuses 1850-1920—Free Internet census indexes and images to the 1850, 1860, 1870, 188018901900, 1910, 1920 and  1930; 1940 can be viewed on the FamilySearch Record Search. These indexes show every name listed on the census and include information about each person’s residence, age, birthplace, occupation, other family members, and neighbors.

Ancestry has online images and indexes for all available 1790-1930 population schedules, 1850 and 1860 slave schedules, most 1850 to 1885 mortality schedules, surviving 1890 veteran's schedules (except Ohio and Pennsylvania), and the 1930 merchant seamen schedules.

See United States Census Online for further details.

1790 to 1870--All of the existing 1790 to 1860 censuses and most of the 1870 census have statewide indexes. These have usually been printed and may also be on microfilm, microfiche, or compact disc. There are also many indexes of individual counties, often published by local genealogical societies. Many of these are listed in the Place Search of the FamilySearch Catalog under one of the following:


Soundex[edit | edit source]

1880 Census--For the 1880 census, the federal government created statewide indexes to households with children who were born between 1869 and 1880. These are “soundex” (phonetic) indexes that group names together by how they sound rather than how they are spelled. For example, the name Smith and all similar spellings (such as Smythe or Schmidt) would be listed together under the soundex code S-530. These indexes are on microfilm and are listed in the Place Search of the FamilySearch Catalog under [STATE] - CENSUS - 1880 - INDEXES. Instructions on how to use the soundex are provided in the catalog.

1900 Census--For the 1900 census, there are statewide soundex indexes on microfilm for every household. The 1900 indexes are listed in the Place Search of the FamilySearch Catalog under [STATE] - CENSUS - 1900 - INDEXES.

1910 Census--There are soundex and miracode (similar to soundex) indexes for 21 states in the 1910 census. These states are Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia.

Some cities and counties are indexed separately from the state in the 1910 indexes:

Alabama: Birmingham, Mobile, Montgomery
Georgia: Atlanta, Augusta, Macon, Savannah
Louisiana: New Orleans, Shreveport
Pennsylvania: Philadelphia County
Tennessee: Chattanooga, Knoxville, Memphis, and Nashville

Before the availability of indexes on the Internet, some states lacked microfilm indexes for 1910. Find instructions for locating ancestors in those formerly unindexed states of the 1910 census in:

  • G. Eileen Buckway, U.S. 1910 Federal Census: Unindexed States: A Guide to Finding Census Enumeration Districts for Unindexed Cities, Towns, and Villages. (Salt Lake City: Family History Library, 1992). (Book FHL 973 X2bu 1910; Fiche FHL 6101340.) Lists towns (or wards) with their 1910 census enumeration district numbers and Family History Library film numbers. Major cities each have special instructions which often mention a city directory with Family History Library book or film numbers.

1920 Soundex--There is a complete soundex to the 1920 census. The state by state 1920 soundex and population schedules are listed in the Place Search of the FamilySearch Catalog under [STATE] - CENSUS - 1920. Unlike other census years, the soundex and schedules are listed in the catalog together.

Other Indexes[edit | edit source]

AIS Microfiche. This index includes indexes of federal 1790 to 1850 censuses, a few 1860 censuses, and scattered slave schedules, state tax lists, and non-federal censuses.

  • Ronald Vern Jackson, AIS Microfiche Indexes of U.S. Census and Other Records. (Bountiful, Utah: Accelerated Indexing Systems. International, 1984). (No Family History Library fiche number, but available at manyFamily History Centers.) A composite federal mortality schedule index is on Search 8. For more information see the AIS Microfiche Census Indexes Wiki page. 

1890 Census. The 6,160 remaining names listed in the 1890 population schedule fragments are indexed in:

  • Nelson, Ken. 1890 U.S. Census Index to Surviving Population Schedules and Register of Film Numbers to the Special Census of Union Veterans, rev. ed. (Salt Lake City, Utah: Family History Library, 1991). Online at: FamilySearch Digital Library. (Book FHL 973 X2na 1890; 1984 edition on film FHL 1421673. Another index is FHL 543341-42.) All surviving veterans schedules are indexed except for Ohio and Pennsylvania. Veterans schedules for states in alphabetical order from Alabama through Kansas and half of Kentucky were destroyed.

FamilySearch Historical Record Collections[edit | edit source]

Online collections containing these records are located in FamilySearch.org.

Wiki articles describing these collections are found at:

Other External Links[edit | edit source]

  • Census Finder free census records, mostly county-by-county images and transcripts.
  • Census Links well-organized free state-by-state and county-by-county census transcript databases.
  • Census Online links to USGenWeb and other short transcript sites, mostly at the county or E.D. level.
  • USGenWeb county-by-county transcripts.
  • Internet Archive. Free Internet U.S. Federal census images. The record of the population census from 1790 to 1930. Scanned from microfilm from the collections of the Allen County Public Library.