Using Census Records for Genealogy

Census records from 1850 through 1940 are the backbone of genealogical research in the United States. The United States has conducted a Federal Census every ten years and the records are released for public use after 70 years. Census records prior to 1850 are less useful, because detailed information is available for only the head of household and not the other family members..

Censuses conducted between 1850 and 1940 provide a wealth of information, although what information was gathered varies. Typically, you will find:

  • The names of everyone in the household
  • Each person's relationship to the head of the household
  • Each person's age at the time of the census and somtimes year and month of birth is also included
  • Number of years of marriage
  • Location of birth and location of parent's birth
  • Other information such as occupation and level of education
  • For people tracking births and deaths in a family, some censuses show how many children the mother has borne and how many have survived
  • Because census enumerators traveled from door to door to gather information, you also get hints about who lived near one another

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If you are not sure that searching for a census record is the next best option for your research, consider using the advice feature of this site. This will help you pick your next best steps in your research. Go to Genealogy Search Advice.