Census Sources

I was asked recently how to find all the census records for different states and counties, and even countries. Because the census is an invaluable tool for genealogists, I offer the following ideas on census sources, both free and requiring suscription. While these recommendations are mostly for the United States, key Canadian and British census sources are also mentioned.

The first place that I would look for census documents — if you have surnames and locations back that far — is to search the 1880 US Census for free at the FamilySearch.org Web site.

 The 1880 Census is wonderful because for many families it lists all household members, shows each person’s relationship to the head of the household, plus age, occupation, and where they and their parents were born. That page linked above also lets you search the 1881 British Census and the 1881 Canadian Census for free.

[2] The second thing that I would do is call your public library and ask if they have a subscription to Heritage Quest, an online source for searching ensus records, Revolutionary War pension records, family history books in digitized format and more. If they say yes, ask for the password to log in to Heritage Quest from home.

Click on the HQ home page to see what it looks like after you’ve signed in via the link at your library’s Web site — and what it offers. Here is the URL: http://www.heritagequestonline.com/

HQ has searchable indexes for 1790 through 1820 and 1860 through 1920. Other years are online as scans of census pages that you can browse page by page.  Still it is free from your library if they have it. If not, ask about the nearest library that does. Sometimes a county library has it, but a particular city does not.

[3] Another approach to finding census records is to use Google to find the GenWeb or other genealogy Web site for the specific county you are researching.  In some counties, volunteers have fully transcribed the early census records for the county. Others have done surname indexes. Both are helpful.

I am very grateful for the work of many volunteers to put old census records for New Holstein, Calumet County, Wisconsin online — both early state and federal censuses. The index to the 1855 Wisconsin census on that site showed me that several of my key ancestral lines had arrived by that time from Germany.

[4] Also, you can look at your state of interest at Census-Online.com and then check the county you want to see what is available. Here for example is Wisconsin, a key state in my research:

[5] In addition, you can find the LDS Family History Center nearest you and visit to use their computers with subscriptions to Ancestry.com.  I believe the centers offer Ancestry these days. Search here for the one in your area.

[6] Finally, when you have decided that genealogy is something you want to pursue seriously, then you will likely want to subscribe to one of the services such as Ancestry.com to get census records and so much more available easily at your home computer.

As you collect census records for a particular family, you might consider establishing a timeline or other means to display the changes in the family — who was in the family each 10 years and who was out on their own, starting a career or a family.

This is one in a series of genealogy and family history research articles to help you find your family and ancestors, often for modest or no cost.

Published in: on August 9, 2008 at 2:49 am  Leave a Comment  
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