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Censuses date back to the mid-18th century when the majority of western countries started keeping detailed records of their populations to assist with planning for the future. The first U.S. census was held in 1790 and contained information about the head of the household, and basic data about other family members, such as age and gender. It also excluded slaves and Native Americans.
The 1850 census was more comprehensive, listing the names of slave owners, number of slaves, and those set free. The 1920 census was even more detailed, and continues to grow to contain more demographic information.
Census information is a great place to start genealogical research as it indicates considerable detail about individuals.
U.S. National Census
U.S. information about households is released after 72 years, and most of it is available on CD or on the Internet. For instance, www.ancestry.com enables you to search the Federal U.S. census from 1790 - 1920. Census records are usually divided by county and state. Be sure to list all the names you are searching under, and any spelling variations.
These prove useful when they are taken in between federal censuses. They vary greatly from state to state, and collect different kinds of information.
Some states include information such as:
- Names of household members
- Age, gender, race
- Relationship to head of household
- County, state of birth
- Marital status
- Length of residence in city or town
- Voting status
Census information is available for Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
Not all states offer census information online, so your best bet is to get in touch with your state's archive office to see what is available.