The Wilde Genealogist
Where to go to get help with your genealogy!
The United States Federal Census
The first record I recommend using to trace your genealogy in the United States is the census. Originally the United States Censuses were taken to apportion taxes, and to apportion representation in congress. Today it is used as a genealogical source throughout the country. The census is the best genealogical tool available for doing research in the United States because everyone who lived in the United States during a census year is (supposedly) included. It is quite simple to use and is available on the internet if you have a subscription to Ancestry.com or Genealogy.com.
The United States census has been taken every ten years from 1790 to 2000. There is a 72 year rights of privacy law so the last census that is available to the general public is the 1930 census. The 1890 census was partially destroyed by fire, and congress ordered the remainder burned. There is essentially none of the 1890 remaining.
The 1930 census was taken in April 1930. It lists Name of street, avenue road, etc.; house number; name of each person whose place of abode was with the family; relationship of person enumerated to the head of the family; whether home owned or rented; value of home if owned; if rented, monthly rental; whether family owned a radio set; whether family owned a farm; sex; color or race; age at last birthday; whether single, married, widowed, or divorced; age at first marriage; whether attended school or college any time since 1 September 1929; whether able to read or write; person's place of birth; father's place of birth; mother's place of birth; language spoken in home before immigration; year of immigration to United States; whether naturalized or alien; whether able to speak English; trade, profession, or particular kind of work done; industry, business, or establishment in which at work; whether employer, salary or wage worker, or working on own account; whether actually at work the previous work day; whether veteran of U.S. military or naval forces, if yes, which war or expedition. An every name index to the 1930 census is only available at Ancestry.com. A sample census form can be found here.
The 1920 census was taken on 1 January 1920. The information included on the 1920 census is very similar to the information in the 1930 census. One important addition is the 1920 census also gives the year of naturalization so that you can find naturalization records and find out where your ancestors came from if they were immigrants. Heads of households only are indexed on Ancestry.com and other head of household indexes are also available on microfilm at many major libraries. A sample census form can be found here
1880 Census (computerized version available on CD)
1890 Census—Destroyed by Fire
Questions? Send an e-pistle to USCensus@wildes.net