How to find and use US Census Records

U.S. Census Records
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Overview of Census Records

U.S. Census records date back much further than 1850, but the records from 1850 onward contained much more accurate information, including birthplaces, residence changes, relationships, occupations, citizenship information and other important details.

It is often possible to do some genealogy research at home using relatives and family records to get you started. However, when those resources run out, you should move on to the next logical tools at your disposal, which are the US census records.

Of course, not all census records are accurate, but they can certainly help you to verify or cross reference other sources. The census records may also give you a clue as to where to search next, such as in military, immigration or court records.

In fact, census records may be the only way to replace other lost or missing records, such as vital statistics, family records or religious records.

Vital records were not recorded officially in the United States until 1920. Since then, some official government records and many other forms of family, religious and vital records have been lost or destroyed in fires or natural disasters.

So, census records are not just valuable for the sake of fun family history research, but can also be used to claim insurance or social security benefits, get passports or prove citizenship.

Returning To The Census

When you are doing genealogy research, you may find yourself returning to the same census information more than once. In fact, you should return to it more than once.

That’s because, as you unearth more and more family history, you may come across new names, dates or information. So, you may need to go back to the various Federal census records to check and expand upon that information.

Inaccuracies of Census Records

There are, of course, several inaccuracies within U.S. censuses. One of the biggest problems, which has persisted throughout the years, is that some people just don’t trust the government in the least.

So, those people may have lied or refused to answer certain questions, especially questions regarding citizenship, taxes or service in the military.

Boundary Problems

Years ago, there was no regular US mail service. So, the early census information was obtained by individuals who had to canvass their area and go door-to-door to collect the data. Not all boundary areas were clearly defined, however.

So, some areas of wards, townships, precincts or districts may not have been covered properly. Therefore, some people are listed in certain censuses more than once and others may have been completely skipped over altogether.

It’s also important to note that the boundaries have further changed over the years. So, you cannot always focus your census search on a certain area based on that area’s boundaries today. Instead, you have to look back at how the area was defined at the time at which the census was taken.

Restricted Census Information

Obviously, Federal census records contain a lot of personal information about individuals. Therefore, census information is restricted for a period of 72 years after each census is taken.

If you wish to access census information taken in the last 72 years, you need to contact: The Personal Service Branch, Bureau of the Census, P.O. Box 1545, Jeffersonville, IN 47131. 

You will have to pay a fee to access the more current census records. You will also only be allowed to access information pertaining to yourself or, if you are an heir or authorized representative, for the person you are heir to or representing.

Missing Census Information

Over the years, several portions of the various Federal censuses have gone missing or been destroyed. For example, several portions of the 1790 census information are believed to have been destroyed during the War of 1812.

That included census schedules for Virginia, Tennessee, New Jersey, Kentucky, Georgia and Delaware. However, many of the Virginia records have since been reconstructed using tax lists and other documents.

The 1890 census information is also incomplete. Most of the schedules for that census were in the Commerce Department when it caught on fire in 1921.

Under Counting

Under counting has been one of the biggest ongoing problems in US census records. Some families lived in remote areas and were missed. Other families just didn’t want to answer the questions on the census.

Over the years, millions of people have been missed entirely when Federal censuses were taken. So, although the censuses can be quite valuable during genealogy research, you should always use all other historical records and resources that you can find to back up your information as well.

State Censuses

State censuses can be as important as the federal census to genealogists but, because they were taken randomly, remain a much under-utilized resource in American genealogy.

State censuses often can serve as substitutes for some of the missing federal census records - most notably the 1790, 1800, 1810, and 1890 censuses. Many state censuses also asked different questions than the federal census, thus recording information that cannot be found elsewhere in the federal schedules.

1905 Kansas State Census
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The Kansas State Board of Agriculture conducted a census of the state in 1905 (questionnaire above). The census collected the names of all members of household and their age, sex, race or color, and state or country of birth. The census also collected information about members' state or country of origin and military service.

While not all states took their own censuses, and some have not survived, state and local census records can be found in many locations.

Most states which took censuses usually did so every 10 years, in years ending in "5" (1855, 1865, etc.) to complement the federal census.

These state census records are most often found at the state archives or state library. Many are also on microfilm through a local Family History Center of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and online via commercial genealogy databases.

The following is a list of state and territorial censuses. Consult this reference for the extent and availability of records for each state and territorial census.

U.S. 1850 Population by State

Alabama1818, 1820, 1821, 1823, 1850, 1855, 1866, 1907.
Alaska1870, 1878, 1879, 1881, 1885, 1887, 1890-95, 1904-07, 1914, 1917.
Arizona1866, 1867, 1869, 1872, 1874, 1876, 1880, 1882.
Arkansas1823, 1829, 1865, 1911.
California1788, 1790, 1796, 1797-98, 1816, 1836, 1844, 1852.
Colorado1861, 1866, 1885.
ConnecticutNo state census records are known to exist.
District of Columbia1803, 1867, 1878
Florida1825, 1855, 1866, 1867, 1868, 1875, 1885, 1895, 1935, 1945.
Georgia1798, 1800, 1810, 1827, 1834, 1838, 1845, 1852, 1853, 1859, 1865, 1879.
Hawaii1878, 1890, 1896.
IdahoNo state census records are known to exist.
Illinois1810, 1818, 1820, 1825, 1830, 1835, 1840, 1845, 1855, 1865.
Indiana1807, 1853, 1857, 1871, 1877, 1883, 1889, 1901, 1913, 1919, 1931.
Iowa1836, 1838, 1844, 1846, 1847, 1849, 1851, 1852, 1854, 1856, 1885, 1895, 1905, 1915, 1925.
Kansas1855, 1865, 1875, 1885, 1895, 1905, 1915, 1925.
KentuckyNo state census records are known to exist.
Louisiana1853, 1858.
Maryland1776, 1778.
Massachusetts1855, 1865.
Michigan1837, 1845, 1854, 1864, 1874, 1884, 1888, 1894, 1904.
Minnesota1849, 1853, 1855, 1857, 1865, 1875, 1885, 1895, 1905.
Mississippi1801, 1805, 1808, 1810, 1816, 1818, 1820, 1822, 1823, 1824, 1825, 1830, 1833, 1837, 1840, 1841, 1845, 1850, 1853, 1860, 1866.
Missouri1797, 1803, 1817, 1819, 1840, 1844, 1852, 1856, 1860, 1864, 1876, 1880.
MontanaNo state census records are known to exist.
Nebraska1854, 1855, 1856, 1865, 1869, 1885.
Nevada1862, 1863, 1875
New HampshireNo state census records are known to exist.
New Jersey1855, 1865, 1875, 1885, 1895, 1905, 1915.
New Mexico1790, 1823, 1845, 1885.
New York1790, 1825, 1835, 1845, 1855, 1865, 1875, 1892, 1905, 1915, 1925.
North Carolina1786.
North Dakota1885, 1915, 1925.
OhioNo state census records are known to exist.
Oklahoma1890, 1907.
Oregon1842, 1843, 1845, 1849, 1850, 1853, 1854, 1855, 1856, 1857, 1858, 1859, 1865, 1870, 1875, 1885, 1895 1905.
PennsylvaniaNo state census records are known to exist.
Rhode Island1774, 1777, 1782, 1865, 1875, 1885, 1905, 1915, 1925, 1935.
South Carolina1825, 1839, 1869, 1875.
South Dakota1885, 1895, 1905, 1915, 1925, 1935, 1945.
VermontNo state census records are known to exist.
Virginia1782, 1783, 1784, 1785, 1786.
Washington1856, 1857, 1858, 1860, 1871, 1874, 1877, 1878, 1879, 1880, 1881, 1883, 1885, 1887, 1889, 1891, 1892, 1898.
West VirginiaNo state census records are known to exist.
Wisconsin1836, 1838, 1842, 1846, 1847, 1855, 1865, 1875, 1885, 1895, 1905.
Wyoming1875, 1878

Charts and Forms

Use these blank forms to record your research results. Click on the title to view or print a PDF version of each.

Blank Federal Census Forms

Nonpopulation Census Forms




1880 Census Supplemental Forms: Defective, Dependent, and Delinquent Classes

Immigration Forms

New York

St. Albans

Military Forms

WWI Draft Registration

WWII Draft Registration

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