Although censuses are a source of genealogical information, the Census Bureau does not provide these data. The Census Bureau is not able to locate missing persons, or provide recent information on individuals.
By law, personally identifiable information collected for a decennial census is released to the public after 72 years. The National Archives released the 1940 census on April 2, 2012. Learn more about your family history from census records.Actually, the records supplied by the census record do exactly what they say they do not do. They enable us to find our missing relatives even though the information is more than 72 years old. But obviously, the historical information is more valuable to genealogists.
One section of the U.S. Census Bureau website that is interesting is the Factfinder for the Nation: Availability of Census Records About Individuals. Here is the description:
The United States population census records contain a wealth of information about people. They are useful in learning about one’s family and local social and economic conditions at various times in history. For more recent years especially, they are official documents for persons who need to prove their age (in the absence of a birth certificate), relationship, citizenship, residence, and other facts in order to qualify for pensions; get jobs, naturalization papers, passports, or insurance policies; establish an inheritance; or trace ancestry. There was a population census taken in 1790 and every tenth year after that. (Page 3 lists the items covered in the existing censuses for each year.) The U.S. Census Bureau publication, Measuring America: The Decennial Censuses From 1790 to 2000(Washington, DC, 2002) provides a history of each census and reproduces the questionnaires and instructions given to enumerators for taking each census. You can download this publication at <www.census.gov/library/publications/2002/dec/pol_02-ma.html>.
This Factfinder explains what census materials are available and how to obtain them and also lists the sources for some other useful records about individuals.
The basic information outlined in this short publication should be common knowledge to genealogists in the United States.
The U.S. Census Bureau website is consistent with most U.S. government websites in that contains a huge amount of information but is organized so poorly that finding anything you need is difficult. If you need to learn about the content of each of the Decennial Censuses from 1790 to 2000, there is a specific publication to help. See "Measuring America: The Decennial Censuses From 1790 to 2000."