FamilySearch’s Top 10 Most Searched Record Collections: Collection 1—United States Census Records

January 9, 2015  - by 

Of the more than 1,800 online historical record collections found in, the most searched collection is the free United States census collection, which span from 1790 to 1940. Census records are a family history staple. These census records offer a snapshot of the entire population of the country that is retaken every 10 years. Census records are so popular because they are a great tool for reconstructing families, tracking family migration patterns throughout the country and fluctuations of family members in a given household.

Earlier census records, from 1790 to 1840, list basic household facts such as the name of the head of house, an estimated age range for each family member, place of residence, ethnic origin, and more. Depending on when the census was taken, different information was recorded. For example, the 1790 U.S. census included this type of information for each household:

  • The name of the head of the family
  • The number of free white males and females of various age ranges
  • The number of slaves
  • The number of other free persons (including Indians)
  • Where the family lived at the time of the census

Censuses records from 1850 through 1940 are more complete and contain much more useful information. The census records from 1850 to 1940 often include:

  • The names of all family members
  • The names of visitors and relatives living in the home when the census was taken
  • The date of immigration
  • Relationships
  • Age or, occasionally, month and year of birth
  • Occupation
  • Where each person was born and lived at the time the census was taken
  • Education level
  • Property ownership
  • Other uniquely individual information

According to the web page for U.S. census records, “Census records are among the most rich and rewarding family history records available. Depending on which census your ancestor is in, you can learn where he or she lived at a particular place or time, . . . his or her place of birth, and what he or she did for a living, among many other bits of valuable information. With the advent of scanning and indexing technology, census records are now available online, making this incredible resource available to more people than ever.”

Jana Last, an avid family history blogger, describes the value of the 1940 U.S. census on her site, Jana’s Genealogy and Family History Blog. “It’s really amazing what the 1940 census can tell us about the kinds of lives our ancestors were living at that time. It was [kind of] sad to see that my Great-Grandpa Carl was working as a vegetable peddler from a private truck. Of course, this was during the Great Depression. The census states that Carl was engaged in Public Emergency Work, and was seeking employment at the time. In Sweden he worked as a tinsmith, according to a passenger list and subsequently he worked as a baker and laborer here in the U.S. according to several census records and my own [Grandmother] Ingrid’s personal history. I really appreciate the sacrifices my ancestors made to come here to the U.S.!”

With the treasure trove of information found in each census, the number of years census records span, their value in reconstructing family units, and the ease of access to these census records, it is no wonder that the United States census records are the most popular record collection in

Search’s census collection by clicking this U.S. collections link.


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  1. I found my dad’s name in the 1940 census; his name got spelled Jack Nager, instead of Jack Nazer. He was living with his sister Anna Pettipiece and her family; husband John, and children Betty, Jack, Jimmy and Shirley; their last name is actually Pettipiece, but some of the family had the last name spelled Lithipiece (or Lithipeace) and Littipiece; these misspellings were due to the two indexers and the arbitrator. Coincidently, in the 1940 census, Dad’s sister and her family lived just east of the place my dad bought in the mid 1940’s.

  2. the census feature is by far the best feature of family search and thank you!
    i learned how to search with census first and I half been eternally thankful that i did so. To have a picture of the family searched for is so important.

  3. Hi, I use family search alot and try to help other people with the site it is a great research area. My question is someone said” If you use family search , you have free access to Ancestry and find my pass.
    Do I have free access or do you have to pay to join for that portion?. Can someone email me, Thank you.