Skip to main content

Genealogy Help

Tracing your family tree? Begin here.

The Federal Census of the United States began in 1790 and is taken every ten years. Census records can provide valuable information about names of family members, years of birth, birthplaces, and professions. Records can be found in the research databases Ancestry and HeritageQuest, the National Archives, and from historical societies.

  • Public census records include the years 1790 through 1940. However, almost all of the population schedules for the 1890 census were destroyed in a 1921 fire.
  • According to law (Title 44, U.S. Code), census records are confidential for 72 years. The 1940 U.S. Census was made available to the public in April 2012. The 1950 records will be released in April 2022.
  • U.S. census records from 1790 to 1840 list only the name of the head of household. Other family members are grouped by age and gender but are not named.

Online Resources

State Census Records

Colonies and some states conducted their own census counts, typically every five years (halfway between the federal censuses). These records can provide useful information on early settlers and their movements. Find links to these census reports on the FamilySearch site.

Common Research Problems & Solutions

Keep in mind that census records and indexing may not be complete or accurate. You may find:

First name & surname variations: Mistakes in spelling are common due to illiteracy, accents, handwriting, indexing errors, and incorrect transcriptions.

Legal name changes: Name changes due to marriage, children taking a stepfather's surname, and immigrants adopting American names.

Solutions:

Use the Soundex search options to broaden your searches. 

Search by surname or limit your search to a geographic area to make the results more relevant.

Exploring U.S. Census Records: Video