U.S. Census Records

September 4, 2018  - by 
Search US Census Records

Does your family tree have any generations that lived in the United States? If so, FamilySearch’s U.S. census records may help you discover more about your ancestors. Census records are an integral source for family history research; they contain valuable information that can connect generations.

Every 10 years, the United States Census Bureau conducts a national census. Since the first U.S. census was taken in 1790, 23 censuses have been recorded in the United States. Of those 23 census collections, 16 are now available to the public. A census record can tell you not only where and when your ancestor lived, but may also describe their occupation, other members of their household, and even small details about their life, such as previous military service or whether they owned a radio set.

Why Is a Census Taken?

One reason a census is conducted is for taxation purposes. However, the impact of a census can be felt at all levels of a community. When a country takes a census, it allows officials to see the growth and change impacting the nation. With this information, a government can see where to allocate federal and state funds. The United States also uses census information to determine the number of representatives each state receives in state and federal legislatures.

US Census Records and population growth

Since its first years as a declared nation, the United States has grown significantly in population. If you’re a student of American history, you’re probably familiar with many of the historical and political changes that have contributed to this staggering growth.

In 1790, the U.S. consisted of only 13 states, and the population was already around 3,929,214. Eighty years later, 37 states were considered part of the United States, and the population had risen by over 800 percent. In 1940, when the population was over 132 million, the U.S. was almost at it its current state count (missing only Alaska and Hawaii). By 2010, despite the addition of only two states, the population had increased by more than 150 million from the 1940 figure. This increase means that in 2010, the United States population was nearly 8,000 percent higher than the population estimated in the first census!

Federal and State Census Records

Historically, two main types of censuses have been taken in the United States: the federal census and state censuses. These two types of censuses were often taken five years apart from each other. However, not every state conducted a state census, and no state has conducted a census since the Massachusetts state census in 1985. These state census records can be especially useful in family history research, however, as some states or territories may not have been completely covered in a federal census, or the federal census may have missing information. By searching both federal and state censuses, you can gather an understanding of where your ancestors lived and who they were.

Find Your Ancestors in Census Records and FamilySearch Collections

Search Federal U.S. Census Records by Year

Find U.S. state census records.

How Does the United States Census Change?

Questions and recorded information change with each census. These changes most often reflect current events in the country. They can also reflect socioeconomic changes or political changes the country is going through during a decade.

Typically, census records have become more detailed each year. The first United States Census recorded information only about the heads of households; other household members were counted according to gender. Census records since then have added increasingly detailed information on every individual as the country has grown and society has changed.

How censuses are taken has also changed over the years. If you lived in the United States in 1940, you may have been asked to fill out a longer census form than your neighbor. The census takers (enumerators) used a more detailed questionnaire for only a portion of the population. 1960 was the first year the U.S. census was processed almost entirely by computers after it had been gathered.

US Census Records Changes and Time Line

When you are searching through census records, it can be useful to consider how each year’s records were different and what information might be available in the census records you are viewing.

The 72-Year Rule and Other U.S. Census Facts

A unique rule prevents census records from becoming available to the public until 72 years after the census was taken. This rule helps protect the identity of people enumerated in past censuses who are still living. Currently, all census records are available up to the year 1940; the 1950 census will become available in April 2022.

You can learn other interesting facts about the census as you dig into its history. The United States Census Bureau wasn’t a permanent government agency until 1902. (The secretary of state was in charge of the first censuses.) Many employees and volunteers for various organizations have worked behind the scenes to gather the census record collections and make them searchable. Each census offers a wealth of genealogical information that can connect generations.

US Census Records facts

United States census records up to 1940 are available for free on FamilySearch.org, and the collections are fully indexed. Every time you do a general records search for one of your ancestors, FamilySearch will search through all the federal censuses from 1790 to 1940, many of the indexed state collections, and other helpful records as well!

United States Census Records by Decade

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  1. Looking for Barnett ‘Barney’ Clark. Or Ethel Mc/missick Clark he was born 1892 and died 1981 Ethel mc/missick Clark was born 1894 and1977

  2. Looking for records of Junella Luckinbill who was born September 28, 1924 in Quapaw, Ottawa County, OK. She lived in Chico, CA. Married Glenn Leach May 8, 1955. She and her husband lived in Springfield, IL. Her husband died January 6, 2012 in Auburn, IL and was buried at Oak Ridge Cemetary in Springfield


  4. Looking for when I lived in Cincinnati, OH between 1947 – 1949 under Lloyd F. Schroy and wondered if the Census would come up showing the address of the house we lived at?

  5. Interesting choice of a variety of countries but no place have I found anything on LATVIA. Have I just missed it someplace

  6. I’ve found my ancestor in the 1930 and 1940 census’ but I was hoping to find more information of his residence later in his life, is there any info avaliabke between the 1940 census and 1950? I am aware of the 72 year rule.

    1. Hi Caelen! Thank you for your question. You can search public record directories like city directories to find residence information about a person.

  7. Seeking information on my Great Uncle, William Francis Ingram emigrated to USA 1900. Children Henry, Herbert, Zilla, Resided in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania from 1904.

  8. Having great difficulty finding my family and birth father his death is found, but nothing else,
    Name John Kenneth Raines,
    Born: Nov 1939 Detroit Michigan
    His Mother: Helen Zawadzki to Raines,
    His father John ? Raines

    I’m not able to find my birth. . OR any of my amily, my brothers, my children’s births etc.
    My Name: Ja’net Ann Raines
    Born 9/17/1960 Ventura, Calif.
    There is nothing pertaining to my family
    My mother: Bettye Amelia Lauderdale
    My Father: John Kenneth Raines
    US military Marines years ?
    What am I doing wrong?

  9. Censuses are taken every 72 years. Next census to be opened up (1950) will be in 2022. Requested information is probably in the 1950 Census.

  10. I know the US Census will be available in April of 2022 but will Family Search have it available then or will you need time to index the whole thing ?

  11. Cannot find anything on Jan Matusiak after 1920 Census. Old family story he went back to Poland or Prussia after his divorce in 1920 and living with his brother in Milwaukee, WI but I simply do not believe he went back. I know of all kinds in Immigration records but are there any records of people “going to Europe”?