How to Read a 1790 U.S. Census Form


A 1790 census record can give you a small snapshot into your 1790 ancestor’s family and lifestyle. Although the handwriting might seem hard to decipher at first, 1790 census forms are simple and can be very easy to navigate.

Use this quick guide to help you find your early U.S. ancestors in the census and learn a little more about them.

1790 Census Record at a Glance

How to read a 1790 census form

The 1790 census has the following information about each household a census taker visited: 

  • Name of the head of the household or the head of the family.
  • Number of free white males ages 16 years and older, including heads of families.
  • Number of free white males under 16 years of age.
  • Number of free white females, including heads of families.
  • Number of all other free persons in the household (except nontaxed Indians).
  • Number of slaves in the household.

1790 census records will also have a location written somewhere on the page to indicate where that census was taken. The census location and head of household name can help you identify your family on a 1790 census record and give you clues about where the family lived.
The arrangement of families on a census schedule was normally in the order in which the census taker visited the households. So the names next to your ancestor might be the neighbors.

What If the Record I Found Doesn’t Look Like This One?

Census takers for the 1790 census actually created their own forms, following instructions from Congress. Because of this variability, individual 1790 census forms may look slightly different from one another. The census forms should still contain the same basic information, but you might find some records with information beyond what was required by Congress.

Examples of different 1790 census records:

Try It Yourself: Search the 1790 Census

On, you can search the 1790 United States census for free. The search results will show you information that has been extracted from the record (such as names and locations), and you can also see the actual images of the census records.

Looking at an image, you can find your ancestor’s name, how many people were in the household, and what the makeup of the household was (male or female, old or young, slave or free).

Finding your ancestor in the 1790 census can put you on the path to important discoveries about your family! To learn more about searching the census, read “How to Find Families in the 1790 Census” on the FamilySearch blog.

1790 U.S. Census

Learn about the 1790 U.S. census records.

Find People in the 1790 Census

How to find your family in the 1790 U.S. census.

Sharon is a retired IT executive and enjoys keeping up with and writing about advancements in genealogy-related technology. She is currently serving as a writing missionary for FamilySearch. She and her husband live in Virginia.

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