The U.S. Census provides insight into the lives of Americans throughout the years.

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Getting Started

The U.S. Census can be a great place to begin–or expand on–your family history research due to the rich details they contain. They are more reliable and easier to read than many other sources, and because they were conducted consistently every decade, they show how your family evolved. Almost 9 out of 10 Americans have a relative in the 1940 Census, so many people are able to uncover valuable details about their past.

Here are some of the vital pieces of information contained in census records:

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Start by searching a name with as much supplemental information as possible (birth location, dates), and see what new details of your family story emerge.

The 1940 Census is currently free to use if you are curious about what you could find.

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How does the census work exactly?

Census planners divide the country into enumeration districts to organize the count. These are geographic areas designed to allow a census taker (enumerator) to visit every house in the district within a two-week period (the time has increased over the years).

Enumerators are instructed to "visit every house, building, tent, cabin, hut, or other place in which any person might live or stay, to insure that no person is omitted from the enumeration" and to count "each person alive at the beginning of the census day."

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Looking for more info and helpful tips about Census records?

Check out our comprehensive guide to understanding the U.S. Federal census:

Download our Census Guide