The Unites States Federal Censuses have been taken every ten years beginning 1790. The last census was taken in 2010 but the returns are not generally available until 72 years after the census is taken, so the 1940 Census became available only in 2012. The 1950 census records will be released in April of 2022. See When will census records be available?
Official access to the census records is through the U.S. National Archives. The U.S. National Archives has a separate website for the 1940 U.S. Census. See http://1940census.archives.gov/ The information in the U.S. National Archives is helpful in understanding the availability and content of the census records. See Census Records in Research Our Records. http://www.archives.gov/research/census/
Searching through the years of the United States Federal Census can add some important details to your ancestors' lives. Adding to the usefulness of the population schedules of the census years are the supplementary schedules sometimes known as the non-population schedules. Not all of the online versions of the censuses include these additional schedules. Here is a list of the various schedules and the years that they were used:
- Agriculture: 1850 through 1885
- Defective, Dependent and Delinquent Classes: 1880
- Industry and Manufacturing: 1810, 1820 and 1850 through 1885
- Mortality: 1850 through 1885, 1900 in Minnesota only
- Social Statistics: 1850, 1860 1870
- Veterans: 1890 (mostly destroyed)
Greenwood, Val D. The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy. Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Pub. Co., 2000.
Hinckley, Kathleen W. Your Guide to the Federal Census for Genealogists, Researchers, and Family Historians. Cincinnati, Ohio: Betterway Books, 2002.
United States, Bureau of Labor, Carroll D Wright, William C Hunt, United States, Congress, Senate, and Committee on the Census. The History and Growth of the United States Census: Prepared for the Senate Committee on the Census. Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office, 1900. https://www.census.gov/history/pdf/wright-hunt.pdf
Although these book are generally helpful, they were written before the census records were generally available online and indexed by several websites, so some of the information is outdated. The Greenwood book contains a detailed chart of what is included and missing from each state's census records.
It is important to examine the detailed list of what is and what is not contained in each of the years of the census
Each of the years of the U.S. Federal Census Population Schedules contains very interesting information. Quoting from the U.S. National Archives website (http://www.archives.gov/research/census/1790-1840.html)
The 1790-1840 censuses generally named only the head of household but reported the age of each household member in age categories. For example, the 1810 census reported the number of free white males and females in these age categories:
"Under ten years of age"
"Of ten years, and under sixteen"
"Of sixteen, and under twenty-six"
"Of twenty-six, and under forty-five"
"Of forty-five and upwards"
While the age range provided by age categories does not indicate an exact date of birth, it at least gives a "ballpark" figure useful (1) for tracking the head of household from one census to the next, especially if other people have the same name, and (2) for tentatively estimating the composition of the family, which the researcher must confirm from other records...
In addition, the individuals census years gave the following helpful information:
- In 1810, the U.S. marshals and their assistants who took the census were instructed to obtain information about manufacturing.
- The 1820 census reported the number of "Foreigners not naturalized" in each household and also reported the number of persons in each household who engaged in agriculture, commerce and manufacturing.
- The 1830 census reported the number of "Alien or Foreigners not naturalized" in each household.
- The 1840 census reported the name and exact age of Revolutionary War pensioners and also reported the number of persons in each household who engaged in mining; agriculture; commerce; manufactures and trades; navigation of the ocean; navigation of canals, lakes, and rivers; and learned professions and engineers.
The information contained in the census records should suggest additional research opportunities. For example, if your ancestor is shown as engaging in agriculture, you should begin looking for land and property records in the county where the census record indicates they lived. An indication that a person was a Revolutionary War pensioner indicates that there is a possible pension record in the National Archives or on one of the large online genealogy websites. For example, FamilySearch.org has the following records:
“United States Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty Land Warrant Applications, 1800-1900 — FamilySearch.org.” Accessed October 10, 2016. https://familysearch.org/search/collection/1417475?collectionNameFilter=false.
In each case, when information is recorded, there are likely more records that provide even more information about your ancestors.
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