Introduction to U.S. Census Research

The U.S. population census records contain a wealth of information about people. They are useful in learning about one's family and local social and economic conditions at various times in history. For more recent years especially, they are official documents for persons who need to prove their age (in the absence of a birth certificate), relationship, citizenship, residence, and other facts in order to qualify for pensions; get jobs, naturalization papers, passports, or insurance policies; establish an inheritance; or trace ancestry. There was a population census taken in 1790 and every 10th year after that. Individual records from the Federal population censuses are confidential for 72 years, by law (Title 44, U.S. Code).1

Although censuses are a source of genealogical information, the Census Bureau does not provide these data. The Census Bureau is not able to locate missing persons, or provide recent information on individuals.

Microfilm copies of the original population schedules, from 1790 through 1920 (virtually all of the 1890 records were destroyed in a 1921 fire), are available at the National Archives in Washington ( and its 13 regional archives, and many libraries in various parts of the United States. Although the first six federal decennial censuses taken from 1790 through 1840 contain less data than those taken later, they still contain useful clues that should not be overlooked.

The Reference Branch at National Archives headquarters will accept photocopy orders by mail, given exact page numbers; it will not do research. If you know the state, county, and town in which your ancestor lived in the census year, go to the microfilm catalog. Locate the census year, state, and county from the list. This shows the microfilm publication number and roll number.

Census Directory

The following pages include an overview of the data captured in each census along with access to the directory of available states. The directory pages include links to free and commercial resources for searching census records.

  • 1790 U.S. Census
  • 1800 U.S. Census
  • 1810 U.S. Census
  • 1820 U.S. Census
  • 1830 U.S. Census
  • 1840 U.S. Census
  • 1850 U.S. Census
  • 1860 U.S. Census
  • 1870 U.S. Census
  • 1880 U.S. Census
  • 1890 U.S. Census
  • 1900 U.S. Census
  • 1910 U.S. Census
  • 1920 U.S. Census
  • 1930 U.S. Census
  • 1940 U.S. Census
  • 1950 U.S. Census
  • Additional Resources

    About Census Records from

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    1 Availability of Census Records About Individuals, U.S. Census Bureau Web Site,


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