Census records are comprehensive family history collections that paint a picture of the entire U.S. population. The information collected reflects a particular slice of life on the day it was recorded. The U.S. census tracked the growth of a fledgling nation, gave insight to the identity and concerns of the people, and adapted over decades to address America’s ever-changing needs.
Browse each census year, uncover new branches of family, and experience the census the way they did.
The 1790 census was the first recorded census, and a new census is held every ten years. This process of counting every man, woman and child in the country is used to determine the number of members for the U.S. House of Representatives per state based on population.
Due to the sensitive nature of census information, every census is held to a 72-year privacy rule before it is release to the public.
Up until 1940, enumerators, or counters, hired by the U.S. government went door to door in order to count every person. If someone wasn't home, the enumerator returned. The census lead to lengthy projects that cost millions of dollars to complete.
However thorough the process, there is room for error in census records due to issues with illiteracy, embellishments about age or time of naturalization, and simple misspelling of names. Knowing the address of a person is incredibly helpful since enumerators went through entire neighborhoods and consequently that is how records are organized.
Make sure to note that enumerators counted people staying at a temporary residence or any location relatives were at on the particular time of the count, which may lead to "missing" ancestors who were recorded in unexpected places.
Working through the censuses you can track an ancestor's journey through life: discover when they changed an address, started a new job, or got married. Your ancestors’ households will often reveal the names of their siblings, whose details would be difficult to trace using the birth indexes alone.
When you find an ancestor on the census, you may find siblings who you didn't know existed. The discovery of these siblings will create more lines for you to investigate and add to your rapidly growing family tree.
You may also trace a particular address or household through time. Census records give family historians an accurate description of the community and what the daily lives of residents looked like.
Census collections often include:
The findmypast census collections contain family records as late as 1940, so start looking for your immediate relatives in collections following his or her birth date. If you are unsure of a birth date, start with a general search by name and use the search filter options on left side panel to narrow results by state, county or record set.
Once you find your ancestors, move through each decade jumping back 10 years to the next U.S. census to trace family history to parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and beyond.
As a rule of thumb, less is more: the more information you enter for your search, the greater the room for errors. So keep your search criteria simple at first and only add more information if you need to narrow down the results.