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What Can U.S. Census Records Search Tell You About Your Ancestors?

Aside from general information such as age, birthplace, and marital status of your ancestors, the U.S. Federal Census contains valuable insights into your family’s history. Was your ancestor one of the many immigrants that made their way to America in hopes of a brighter future? If so, their immigration and citizenship information was likely recorded. You can even find the exact year they came to the United States and the address they lived at when they first arrived. Or use their marital status to find related family members and further build out your family tree.

In addition, you can search U.S. census records to find relatives including their children and siblings of your ancestors. Filling in the gaps of your family lineage will allow you to gain a better understanding of your family history.

Find Names of family members & their ages in Census Records

Search U.S. Census Records & Uncover Details about Your Family Story

Starting in 1850 the following data was recorded on Census forms for all individuals in each household. Note, the earlier census records (from 1790-1840) only listed the head of household and the number of household members, but only in select age groups.

  • Names of family members & their ages
  • Their state or country of birth
  • Their parent's birthplaces
  • Year of immigration
  • Street address
  • Marital status & years of marriage
  • Occupation(s)
  • Value of their home and personal belongings
  • The crops that they grew (in agricultural schedules), etc.

Tips on Searching US Census Records Online

Use the most current census year available and work backwards to find ancestors in earlier generations. Today, the most current census data available is the 1940 census due to a 72-year restriction on access to census reports.

Another helpful tool to use when searching the census archives is to only use your ancestor’s first initial when conducting your inquiry. Some census takers only recorded the first initial instead of the entire full name of an individual.

If you are having a difficult time finding information regarding your ancestor by name, narrow your search and add in their place of birth, or other family members. This information can help you get a better search result that’s specific to your lineage, especially if you have a common last name.

Using the information found in the census such as location and names of family members, you can build on your research and search nearby cemeteries, schools, or churches that your ancestor’s could have been a member gaining more insights into your ancestors. 

The US Census and other genealogical resources such as newspaper archives and U.S. obituaries provide a greater understanding of your ancestors’ lives, interests, and the events which defined them. With just a name you can access a world of information through GenealogyBank’s comprehensive and digitized U.S. census records.

Start your search and learn more about your family history today!


1940 Census Record

About the Federal Census Collection

The United States federal census bureau has collected data on citizens every ten years since 1790. Starting on August 2, 1790, the US government began the first census to gain valuable information about the American population and the economy. Initially, the Federal census only collected data on the heads of households, but as of the 1850 census questions were expanded to include all household members and additional Census data points. In addition to collecting data from respondents through census forms and surveys, the US census bureau pulls additional data from federal, state and local governments. In regards to budgeting for the U.S. Census, the House of Representatives determines how much federal funding the bureau receives.

How were census records collected?

Today, the Bureau collects federal census records from various sources. The historical census, however, was a door to door process where representatives visited households, asking residents to fill in questionnaires about themselves and their families.

The information in the U.S. census records is obtained by using fixed questionnaires for interviews. The resulting data is then categorized into two broad types.

  • Direct data, which is gathered through direct answers to the questions during the interview
  • Derived data, which comes from facts that were discovered by interrelating and classifying answers to various questions

Although the census requires all individuals to be enumerated, it doesn't mean that each individual has to be interviewed. A husband may supply information about his wife, or a parent may provide answers about their children. Not every individual is required to answer every question. With all household individuals enumerated and categorized on several basic questions, they make a basis for sampling in the U.S. census records.

The recorded information and questions change with every census. The changes usually reflect the recent and important current events in the country. They also change depending on economic, social, or political changes the country is experiencing in a certain decade.

U.S. census records have become more elaborate and detailed every year. The first records only contained information about the head of each household, while other household members were only listed by gender. Census records since then have come a long way, as society has changed and the country has evolved. For quite some time, they've recently included detailed information about each individual.

What can we learn from census records?

The results you get from searching census records online will be the building blocks of your ancestry research. People who research their families and ancestors usually start with the most recent census and work their way backward. It's been the best-proven strategy for learning more about people from earlier generations.

If you search census records, you may learn where your ancestor lived, but also what they did for a living, if they were married, and to whom, if they had children, and the names of all other members of their household. You may even learn specific small details from your ancestor's life, such as whether they owned a radio or TV set, or details about their military service.

Some interesting information about your ancestor you may learn from census searches include:

  • Their name
  • The name of their spouse and children
  • The names of their parents
  • Their birthplace
  • Year of immigration
  • Occupation
  • Value of their home possessions
  • Street address
  • The crops their household used to grow

During your census search, keep in mind that the 1st United States census was taken and recorded in 1970, and 23 censuses have been recorded since then. Of the 23 censuses, 16 are available to the public at this moment.

Why were census records started?

One of the main reasons for conducting a census is for taxation purposes. However, U.S. census records reveal important information of a certain community or country. Census records allow officials to see the changes that impact the nation. Using information gathered from census records, government officials decide how to allocate state and federal funds. American censuses and the information they contain is also used for determining the number of federal representatives each state receives.

The United States had been conducting two types of censuses throughout our history: the state and federal censuses. The two were usually taken five years apart. However, not all states used to conduct state censuses. For example, the Massachusetts census in 1985 was the last one taken by a state. Census records leave a mark in history about the population and give important information about social and economic growth. Officials use this information to better allocate resources throughout the United States.

Why are census records important?

Census records provide a written snapshot of our country and our nation. It reveals who we used to be, where we are, where and how we used to live, and so much more. This once-in-a-decade count provides the government officials with crucial information that helps them decide the number of seats each of the states should have in the House of Representatives.

Census data from the previous decade is used to make important political, social, and economic decisions. It also gives you a clear insight into a specific decade and the way the population lived through it. With the help of a U.S. census search, you will be able to better learn intriguing details about your ancestors that may answer many questions about your heredity.

Since it's mandatory for the United States to count the entire population once every ten years, you will be able to go back in time pragmatically and discover incredible details about your entire family tree.

Find your ancestors and search the most recent U.S. Federal Census records: