A census is an official enumeration of the population in a particular area. In addition to counting the inhabitants of an area, the census generally collects other vital information, such as names, ages, citizenship status, and ethnic background. Each census can prove to be invaluable in painting a portrait of a family at a particular place and time.
Types of Records
The census collections include censuses for a variety of years and locations:
Australian Census Records
1828 New South Wales, Australia Census contains the 1828 census of New South Wales. It is the only surviving
historical census for Australia and is therefore an important record from this period in our history. Information
recorded on the census includes: name of inhabitant, age, whether bond or free, name of ship on which arrived,
year arrived, religion, employment, and residence.
United Kingdom Census Records
The United Kingdom census records include censuses for England, Wales, Isle of Man, and the Channel Islands. Censuses are available for these years:
1861, 1871, 1881, 1891, 1901
United States Census Records
Censuses are available for these years:
1790, 1800, 1810, 1820, 1830, 1840, 1850 (including slave schedules), 1860 (including slave schedules),
1870, 1880, 1890 (fragment, census substitute, and veteran's schedules), 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930.
In addition, the census collections contain many censuses for individual American states and Canadian provinces.
The information in this section was taken from Finding Answers in U.S. Census Records, Wikipedia at <en.wikipedia.org>, and the Colorado Legislative Council.
- The word "census" is derived from the Latin word "censor," which was the title of the Roman official in charge of civil registration, taxation, public works, and public morality.
- The inhabitants of early Babylonia, Egypt, and China were regularly counted, or enumerated.
- The first census for the United States was taken in 1790.
- When taking the first census, workers provided their own paper, and information was submitted on paper ranging from four inches to three feet.
- The first census counted 3.9 million Americans, less than half the population of New York City in 2000.
- Enumerators write down the responses that are given to them; they are not authorized to ask for any kind of proof, such as birth, marriage, or property ownership records.
- In 1920, enumerators (census takers) were paid between one and four cents per person, depending on the urban or rural setting of the district to be counted.
- U.S. census results are used to apportion seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. To avoid political manipulation, federal law requires the census be completed by means of an actual headcount, rather than a statistical estimate of the population.
Do you offer census extraction forms that show the questions asked in each census year?
Ancestry has free census extraction forms available online. Census extraction forms are doubly valuable: not only do they allow researchers to see the format and column headings for various census years (especially if the schedules themselves are hard to read), they also provide a clean and convenient method for extracting and filing important information you find. To access the forms, click here.
NOTE: You will need Acrobat Reader installed on your computer to view these forms. If you do not have Acrobat Reader installed, you can download it for free.
What are the census indexes on Ancestry?
Census indexes do not include the complete census data, but they provide sufficient information to locate the individual in the original record. In this way they can save considerable research time. Most census indexes include the name of the head of the household, the location where they were living during the census year, and the page where their entry can be found on the original census records.
When viewing an individual record in a census index, you may notice that each record has an ID number included at the end of it. This number is used by Ancestry to identify each individual and to allow our programmers to correct errors quickly. This number has no genealogical value and will not refer you to additional records. The page number listed in a census index is simply the page number from the National Archives for the original census page where that individual can be found. To find more about the individual, you will want to look them up in original census records. Many libraries and family history centers have them available on microfilm and we have them available in our special Census Images Online feature. The page number will allow you to find the individual much more quickly in the images.
What do I do if I find an error in the census?
If you find an error in a census entry, or you have comments and suggestions to make, click the Comments and Corrections link on an individual's census page. Then, you can add alternate names, make comments, or report errors.
Why are there very few 1890 U.S. census images online?
Most of the original 1890 U.S. population schedules were destroyed in a fire at
the Commerce Department in 1921. Less than 1% of the schedules—census records
] enumerating only 6,160 individuals-survived. Unfortunately, no complete schedules
for a state, county, or community survived. All remaining 1890 population schedule
records are included in our 1890 census images online postings.
When viewing our census extraction form for 1890, you will notice that it is for
the 1890 Veterans schedule. This is because this schedule is much more heavily used
for 1890 due to the loss of the majority of the population schedules for that year.
What is the 1890 U.S. Census Substitute database?
The 1890 U.S. Census Substitute is a collection of replacement data for the 1890 census information that was destroyed in a fire at the Commerce Building in Washington D.C. With the aid of the National Archives and the Allen County Library, this database is the first definitive online substitute for the missing 1890 census. It includes fragments of the original 1890 census that survived the fire, special veterans schedules, several Native American tribe censuses for years surrounding 1890, state censuses (1885 or 1895), city and county directories, alumni directories, and voter registration documents.
Why do some names in the census indexes have an asterisk (*) next to them?
Entries for which the indexer was unsure of the actual spelling are marked with one or more asterisks. Researchers finding asterisked entries should make sure they verify the index entry against the census schedules themselves.
For Further Reading
For more information on using censuses in your family history research, see
Census Schedules by Donn Devine, CG, CGI