Of the more than 1,800 online historical record collections found in FamilySearch.org, 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
- Age or, occasionally, month and year of birth
- 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 FamilySearch.org 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 FamilySearch.org.
Search FamilySearch.org’s census collection by clicking this U.S. collections link.
Latest posts by Alivia L. Whitaker (see all)
- FamilySearch’s Top 10 Most Searched Record Collections: Collection 6—Germany Births and Baptisms, 1558–1898 - February 18, 2015
- FamilySearch’s Top 10 Most Searched Record Collections: Collection 5—United States World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917–1918 - February 4, 2015
- FamilySearch’s Top 10 Most Searched Record Collections: Collection 4—United States Social Security Death Index - January 27, 2015