One of the first records that budding genealogists learn to rely on are the various census records. In the United States, the U.S. Federal Census was mandated by Article 1, Section 2 of the Constitution. The first Census in the United States was taken in 1790 and every ten years thereafter. Because of privacy concerns, the Censuses are not made public until 72 years after the official Census Day. The 1950 Census records will be released in April 2022. Unfortunately, due to government negligence and error, almost all of the records from the 1890 U.S. Federal Census were lost either by fire or government destruction.
Concerning census records in the United Kingdom and quoting from Wikipedia: Census in the United Kingdom:
Coincident full censuses have taken place in the different jurisdictions of the United Kingdom every ten years since 1801, with the exceptions of 1941 (during the Second World War) and Ireland in 1921. Simultaneous censuses were taken in the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, with the returns being archived with those of England. In addition to providing detailed information about national demographics, the results of the census play an important part in the calculation of resource allocation to regional and local service providers by the governments of both the UK and the European Union. The most recent UK census took place in 2011.For genealogists, the first usuable census information from the U.K. begins in 1841.
As a contrast, in Mexico, the census efforts have not been a beneficial to genealogical researchers. Here is a short explanation of the Mexican National Census from the FamilySearch.org Research Wiki:
While earlier attempts were made to enumerate the Mexican population, the 1895 census was considered the first federal or national census. Beginning in 1900, censuses were conducted every 10 years. The 1930 census was conducted on May 15 and was the first census in which returns were processed centrally. Because of this, most of sheets still exist. This census is widely recognized as one of Mexico’s best planned and executed censuses, and it is also the only one accessible to the public. Due to under counting and some record loss, primarily for the Federal District, the 1930 census covers about 78 percent of the population, not 90% as previously reported. (This figure is based on 12.8 million persons in the Ancestry.com database extracted from this census compared with a total population in 1930 for all of Mexico in 1930 of 16,552,722 (see Mexico Population 1930). Since the population of Mexico City was 1,029,000 in 1930, there were record losses in areas beyond the Federal District as well, accounting for another 2 million plus persons not covered in the database placed online by Ancestry.com in September 2011.As you can see from this explanation, census records can be extremely useful, but have definite limitations. Census records exist in many countries around the world, but it takes some investigation and effort to obtain access to the records.
Returning to the United States, in addition to the Federal Census, there are also several local and state census records. Here are some links to resources that list all of the available census records in the United States:
- United States Census Bureau, History
- National Archives, Census Records
- 1790-1930 U.S. Census Records Available Free
- Census Online
- Cyndi's List, Databases: Searchable Online » Census
Search for census records with the name of the state or country to find hundreds of additional links.
This series is a step-by-step guide to using online census records through various online websites' indexes. Using a variety of websites and their individual indexes is a way to make sure that you are capturing all of the information available from each census. Of course, I cannot review every website and every census, but I hope to give enough examples, that you can see how to approach any particular census record.