Importance of the US Census

The first census in U.S. history took place in 1790, and it continues today. The census is conducted every decade (10-year counts), meaning if your ancestors lived in America (states and territories) as of 1790 or after, then it’s likely they’re in the U.S. Census. Such a treasure chest of information. Only problem, not every person’s name was listed for the 1790, 1800, 1810, 1820, 1830, and 1840 censuses – only the head of the household (male or female). Anyone else in the household (a child, wife, mother, uncle) were listed as female or male and marked in a certain age range.

By the 1850 census, a good deal more information on each person was gathered on the census, especially each person’s name and age. Note most of the census records for 1890 were destroyed in a fire in the 1920s. There are a tiny few saved of specific towns, so check that out.

Some key items to keep in mind as you cover each decade census – first, the spelling for the surnames could change or a different given name used. Second – no proof was needed for the information provided, so some people answering the census taker’s questions either guessed or even in some cases ‘lied’. This is common with a person’s age / birth date and their marital status. Some people didn’t want it known they were separated or divorced from a spouse. So many just stated they were married (even if they were not or they were widowed – even if they knew the ex-spouse was still living).

Follow the children, how many children a family member had, where they ended up, and whether or not they were still alive at a certain time period. With the listing of children also note the ages and where the child was born. It could prove information about where the family moved to over a course of 20-30 years.

When you find an ancestor in a census, do examine the person’s neighbor, go a couple of pages in either direction. You just might find a grandparent to the ancestor, a great aunt or uncle. It was very common for family members to live close to each other.

Dates that an ancestor placed when they arrived in America is important. Check all censuses, some had dates of arrival, some did not Plus many times an ancestor forgot the date and provides just the closest date they can guess.

Even with the census being done every ten years, there is a 72 year waiting period before a specific census is released to the public, this is for privacy. So April 1, 2022, the 1950 U.S. Census will be released publicly. Imagine the ancestors (of all age ranges) and maybe yourself who would be on this census record. Using the (free database) you can exam the various censuses from 1790 to 1940.

Photos: US Census Bureau; 1930 German farm family in US and 1950 census.

Related Blogs:

The First US Census

Ancestor NOT on Census

‘DDD’ Schedules with 1880 Census

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