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Cencus Records for Genealogical Research

Census records are one of the most popular and useful genealogical research sources available. In fact, many genealogists begin their research using census records. Since 1790, United States censuses have been taken once every 10 years. This tradition is still in practice today.

Importance of Census Records

Census records place ancestors at a specific location at a specific time. A lot can be learned from a census record that exceeds location, such as spouses, children, ages, birthplaces, occupations, and more. Information listed on census records varies between each census year.

Available Censuses

All United States census records from 1790 to 1930 are currently available to the general public. The exception to this is the 1890 census, which was mostly lost during a January 10, 1921 fire at the Commerce Department building in Washington D.C. Some fragments of this census survived the fire, and are available for public viewing.

For privacy reasons, United States census records are available after 72 years. At the time of this article, the most current available census year is 1930. The 1940 census is scheduled for release on April 2, 2012.

Census Information

From 1850 to 1930, census records may include the following information: names of each household member, their ages, their state or country of birth, their parent’s birthplaces, year of immigration, street address, marriage status and years of marriage, occupations, value of their home and personal belongings, and more.
Prior to 1840, very little information was given on United States census records. These census records primarily contain the names of the heads of household with the number of household members by age group.

Certain ethnic groups, such as African Americans and Native Americans, were often not listed on old census records. Slave schedules were taken in 1850, but they only listed the slaveholder and number of slaves he owned. Native Americans who chose to move off from the reservations and pay taxes were included on censuses.


While census records are an important genealogical resource, they are not always completely accurate. The enumerator may have been given the wrong information, or recorded information inaccurately. It is also possible that information was given by children if the parents were not available, or made up entirely if a lazy enumerator wanted to hurry along his work. To further confuse things, some handwritten census records may have been copied for distribution to multiple agencies, making them more likely to contain errors.