About PetersPioneersAbout the U.S. Census

By Peter Biggins

Index      About PetersPioneers      Contacts      Home Page

I was a census taker in 1960 while studying sociology at the Rogers Park campus of Loyola University in Chicago, Illinois. In April that year, I went to the local census headquarters at the Edgewater Beach Hotel and picked up a census kit containing census forms, instructions, and the addresses assigned to me in Rogers Park. I took the census where I was told, signed the forms, and submitted them to headquarters back at the Edgewater Beach Hotel.

I had no idea that some day I might become an amateur genealogist and look at images of the original census sheets as my single most important source of infomation.

In 2032, when I am 92 years old, the pages for Rogers Park with my name on them will be made public.

U.S. Constitution

Article I, Section 2 of the the U. S. Constituion requires that a census be taken every 10 years in order to apportion the members of the House of Representatives. According to Public Law 95-416, census information is not made public until 72 years after the census year.

On April 2, 2012, the 1940 census was made public, and I found myself at age 5/12 on line 16 of a page for Kalamazoo, Michigan: Line 16.

1890 Census Destroyed by Fire

Most of the original 1890 census was destroyed in 1921 by a fire in the Commerce Department.

Searching the Census

There are several ways to search for ancestors in the U.S. Census:

  • HeritageQuest, which is available through many libraries without a fee, at the library or at home. Indexing available for all years except: 1830, 1840, 1850, 1930 (partial).
  • Ancestry.com, which is available at some libraries as Ancestry Library Edition or can be viewed at home by paying a fee.
  • Archives.com, which can be viewed at home with a fee.
  • Family Search On-Line, which can be viewed at home without a fee. For 1850, 1860, 1870, 1900. Provided by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
  • Family Search, which can be viewed at home without a fee. For 1880. No images. Provided by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
These services have indexed the names in the census and allow you to search for a name in a state for a census year. They also allow advanced searches with more criteria. Sometimes, the name is not available because the original form is difficult to read or it has been misread by the indexer. This problem often can be circumvented with extra effort by searching (1) the first name and adding criteria to narrow the search, (2) the name of a neighbor, or (3) page by page in a certain geographic area.

Three organizations are in the process of indexing the 1940 census: HeritageQuest, Ancestry.com, and Archives.com. In the meantime, the National Archives has produced images of the 1940 census that can be accessed with the help of an address and Steve Morse. A 1940 telephone book is helpful in finding the address. Some libraries have put the local 1940 telephone book on line.

U.S. Census Items, 1790-1940

The table below shows the key items available in the U. S. census from 1790 to 1940. For more information on the content of each census, see U.S. Census Forms.

Item17901800/10182018301840185018601870188019001910192019301940
Address City City City City City City City City City and street City and street City and street City and street City and street City and street
Name Head only Head only Head only Head only Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Relationship No No No No No No No No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Age Male bracket Bracket Bracket Bracket Bracket Yes Yes Yes Yes Month and year born Yes Yes Yes Yes
Sex Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Marital status No No No No No No No No Yes Years married and number of children Years married and number of children Yes Age first married Yes
Birthplace No No No No No Self Self Self Self and parents Self and parents Self and parents Self and parents Self and parents Self
Occupation No No Yes No Industry Males Males Males Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Income No No No No No No No No No No No No No Yes
Literacy No No No No No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Education No No No No No No No No No No No No No Level
Immigration No No No No No No No No No Year Year Year Year No

History of the Census

For the history of the Census and instructions to census takers, see History of the Census and Its Samples.

Nonpopulation Census

Agriculture, mortality, and social statistics schedules are available for the census years of 1850, 1860, 1870, and 1880. Manufacturing schedules are available for 1820, 1850, 1860, 1870, and 1880. Agricultural schedules of 1850, 1860, and 1870 provide the following information for each farm: name of owner or manager, number of improved and unimproved acres, and the cash value of the farm, farming machinery, livestock, animals slaughtered during the past year, and "homemade manufactures." The schedules also indicate the number of horses, mules, "milch cows," working oxen, other cattle, sheep, and swine owned by the farmer. The amount of oats, rice, tobacco, cotton, wool, peas and beans, Irish potatoes, sweet potatoes, barley, buckwheat, orchard products, wine, butter, cheese, hay, clover seed, other grass seeds, hops, hemp, flax, flaxseed, silk cocoons, maple sugar, cane sugar, molasses, and beeswax and honey produced during the preceding year is also noted. The 1880 schedules provide additional details, such as the amount of acreage used for each kind of crop, the number of poultry, and the number of eggs produced. See Nonpopulation Census.

Index      About PetersPioneers      Contacts      Home Page