A Guide To U.S. Census Records Online

By | July 29, 2017

The Internet has so much information at your fingertips. It’s hard to know just exactly where to look among the vast collections of records that you can find online.

Luckily for you my guide to U.S. census records online will show you what is available on the web for free, what you have to pay for and what isn’t yet available.

A Guide To U.S. Census Records Online

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Why should you use census records?

Before I do show you just where you can find these valuable sources of information I want to share with you just why they are valuable.

If you have just begun your family history journey then you are probably wondering why you should use them. And if you have been researching your family history for a while then you will definitely know how useful they are.

Census records are basically a snapshot into the lives of your ancestors. They can give you vital information about them, such as where they were born, when they were born, where they lived, their occupation, their family, and so on.

So you can use these records to fill in the gaps in your knowledge about your ancestor. But also they can be used to fill in the branches of your tree. So with the information that you find in them you can explore more and more branches of your tree.

My own experience with census records!

When I decided to trace my family history I wanted to know all that I could about the Couch family. And so I began to look at the siblings of my ancestors, and then their descendants.

Yes, it did become an obsession. You don’t have to get too carried away. If you do genealogy research long enough then who knows you may become as addicted as me to discovering your ancestry.

But seriously, the census records were a great help to me in this endeavor. They helped me to bracktrack through past generations and then look at siblings of my ancestors, and then go forward in time to explore their descendants.

Credit: Ancestry

Sources of census records available online:

Free Census Records Online!

When it comes to accessing census records online there are a number of options that are available to you. Whenever I search for information, certificates and documents regarding my ancestors I always check free sources first.

After all what is the point spending money on something when you could have got I think for free?

Free Census Records Online

So with that said, what are the free options that we can use?

Family Search Census Records!

When it comes to accessing census records for free there is no better option that to check out Family Search. Here you will find indexes and image shows to all of the U.S. census records, except unfortunately though for 1880 and 1930.

Credit:   FamilySearch.org

Family Search has millions of records within its collection. I have used this site extensively to find my ancestor through parish records, newspaper articles and census records. It has helped me quite a lot while researching my own family history.

However, the drawback to this site is that you may not always find what you are looking for. For that reason I suggest that you turn your attention to the paid sites that I will discuss later, (Ancestry and Find My Past).

Internet Archive!

The Internet Archive is another free option that is available to you. This is a collection of scanned microfilm of censuses from 1790 right up until 1930.

These scans were taken from the collection held at Allen County Public Library. And as they are just images and not indexes to find your ancestor you will need to search for the county that you think, or know, that your ancestor resided.

Ancestry Census Records

The most popular and well-known of all the genealogy search websites and that is Ancestry. It is no wonder that Ancestry is the best site for genealogists as it contains indexes and images of all U.S. census records.

Credit:   Ancestry

The downside to being able to access all this census information is that you will need to pay. However, if you want to do your family history research justice and be proud of what you have discovered then you will need to consider to part with some money.

Tip: You can actually use and access Ancestry for free. Why not visit your local library and check out this site from there? It is one way that I have gained so much knowledge about my ancestors without having to spend any money, (about from gas money that is).

FindMyPast Census Records

A second paid genealogy website that I regularly go to is FindMyPast. This site also offers both indexes and images for all U.S. census records.

The great advantage of Find My Past is you can get free access to the 1790-1940 US census records. That’s right, they are completely free for you to check.

Credit:   Find My Past

National Archives Census Records

You will not be able to access census records from the National Archives, (except for the 1940 census records). I am sorry to disappoint you but I felt it important to point this out to you in case you were expecting your ancestor from this source.

Credit:   U.S. National Archives

You will be able to access these records from the National Archives Building in Washington, D.C. If you are unable to access the nation’s capital then these records are present in other State Archives.

Tip: The 1940 census records are available through the National Archives. However, there are no indexes to these records. So to discover your ancestor you will first need to find the enumeration district number through census maps for where your ancestor lived.

The census images are organized by these enumeration district numbers. Once you know the district then search through the appropriate images for your ancestor.

United States Census Bureau

Again I am sorry to disappoint you but you will not be able to get online access to census records from the United States Census Bureau website.

The Census Bureau though does offer the service where you can get a transcript of individuals from censuses from 1950 to 2010. You will need to pay upwards of $100 and provide proof, such as a death certificate.

But if you are wanting to gain access to information from the latest censuses then this option is certain,y available  to you.

My Final Thoughts on U.S. Census Records Online

After discovering what family history you have in your own homes and asking your relatives for help your next step is census records. These records can give you so much information that you can use to no to only build your family tree but also a picture of your ancestors lives.

These records are single-handledly the most important resource that a genealogist can use. With that said I hope that I have made your next step that much easier.

Why pay for your genealogy research?

There is no point going to the expense of paying for something that you could have got for free. That money could otherwise have been spent on something else connected with your genealogy research.

The second point when it comes to searching for your ancestor through the paid sites I see indexing. Sometimes the transcriber will have entered the information within the censuses incorrectly.

Searching for my ancestors using Ancestry and Find My Past has sometimes given me mixed results. I have found some ancestors indexed as “Cauch”, (instead of Couch). This is because the transcriber has not been able to decipher the enumerator’s handwriting and has entered what they thought it could be.

So sometimes when I have not found my ancestor through say Ancestry then I have tried my luck with Find My Past. This has helped me on a number of occasions. Of course it is your choice how you search for your family history records but I thought that I would share this tip with you.

Thank You and Please Leave A Comment

I hope you enjoyed this post discussing U.S. census records online. If you think that this post will be helpful to others then please share it with friends and family using the social media buttons below.

If you have any questions or comments then please leave a comment below. I would love to hear from you.

Author: Owain

Hello, Owain here. After researching my family history for a number of years I wanted to give back to the genealogy world. So here you will find guides, tips and product reviews that will help you on your genealogy journey.

12 thoughts on “A Guide To U.S. Census Records Online

  1. Linda Watson

    I visited the National Archives in DC this summer. Such an impressive building and site. I didn’t look up any family information due to time restraints, but next time I will spend more time. My father has spent a lot of time researching his side of the family and we have quite an impressive genealogy. He used Ancestry. But your tip about using the library is wonderful! Will tell that to him. What do you think of the DNA part of these services?

    1. Owain Post author

      Hi Linda,

      Visiting archives and library are a great way to get information on your family tree for FREE. I have spent many hours in libraries gathering information and then going home to assimilate it all into my genealogy software program.

      Ancestry DNA has certainly become popular amongst genealogist. It is a great way to further your research as you can locate where your ancestors came from. You may also be able to make contact with cousins through this approach. That’s a great benefit with DNA testing as you can then collaborate with your relatives.

  2. Clyde


    Thank Goodness I found your Website! I had started working on my family genealogy many years ago but gave up as it was way to difficult. Now, with your help, I have uncovered so many sources to get back to my searches. Thanks again, and I plan on getting back into the search for my long lost ancestors!

    1. Owain Post author

      My pleasure Clyde. It is my goal to help people to make their family history journey an enjoyable one, and also make it easier. When we step into the genealogy world we do not know all the resources that are available to us and also what is the best approach. I therefore want to show you how best to use these resources so that you get the most from them.

  3. Nick

    I know Ancestry.com was one of the most popular genealogy websites. Actually this is the only one I knew about. I have always wanted to find out more about my family history and now instead of having to pay for it, I can save the money and have fun digging into my history myself.

    1. Owain Post author

      Glad I could be of assistance Nick. There are many resources available to us family historians. Sometimes though there are ways that we can get that information for free, and census data is a prime example. I am glad that I could be of help and show you the way.

  4. joe

    Sounds like you can get a good start on research for free.I think this would be a fun project to sit down with my older sisters and do.

    1. Owain Post author

      Yes Joe there are plenty of resources out there’s and online where you can trace your family tree for free. However, not all resources will be free and so you will need to spend some money to get the information that you are after.

      When you do have to part with cash you have to remind yourself why you are doing it. I am proud of the research that I have carried out. There is just so much history that I have uncovered and I have left a legacy for my two daughters and my descendants.

      1. joe

        It would be really neat for my great-great grandkids to have a family history to add their names to in 100 years from now.

        1. Owain Post author

          Yep it sure will Joe. I have great pride in what I have done for my family history. Not only have I preserved the stories of my ancestors. But I am also passing it down to my kids and their kids, and so on. There is so much information that I have accumulated. My kids wouldn’t know where to start if they did it themselves. So I have made a great start on it which they can work on themselves when they are ready to do so.

  5. Kohl Johnson

    Thanks for all the great information, it’s much appreciated!

    I can’t believe just how much information there is in these census records. I also didn’t know where to look but thanks to your guide I know where now.

    Have you had any problems when using census records to find your relatives?

    1. Owain Post author

      Yes Kohl there is definitely a lot of information within censuses. I stumbled across census records and didn’t quite know where to look. So I thought it would be a good idea to include a guide to help others know how to find them.

      I have had a few problems when searching through census records, such as not finding an ancestor who I was looking for. You maybe interested in my U.S. Census Records Tips post that I have compiled.


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