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.
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.
Sources of census records available online:
- Free Census Records Online (includes Family Search and Internet Archive)
- Ancestry Census Records
- FindMyPast Census Records
- National Archives Census Records
- United States Census Bureau
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?
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.
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).
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.
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.
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