state census records, New York State census

Fill in the Census Records Research Gaps

Utilizing census records are a fundamental resource for any genealogists. There are two situations discussed here where the federal census records leave information gaps. Namely, when you’re searching for a relative before the federal census of 1790, and when you can’t find someone you know should show up on a federal census.

A relative who predates the 1790 census

If you’re searching for your relative that you know lived in the US by or before 1790, Evarts B. Greene and Virginia D. Harrington’s American Population Before the Federal Census of 1790 is a crucial resource. Many books have lost their informational value as their contents have been mined and placed online. However, this book, which refers to about 4,000 separate population lists or estimates, is still the most accurate and exhaustive reference for the period.

The recipients of a social science research grant, Columbia University scholars Greene and Harrington set about to compile a list of every 17th- and 18th-century list (or statistical reference thereto) concerning the American population before the first U.S. census of 1790. Consulting both primary and secondary sources, the end result of their labors was a comprehensive survey, arranged by colony, state, or territory–and chronologically thereunder–of population lists for all units of American government in existence as of 1790.

The lists in American Population Before the Federal Census of 1790 themselves range from poll lists, tax lists, taxables, militia lists, and censuses; the book’s geographical coverage extends to Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, the Illinois Territory, and the Northern and Southern Departments of the Western Indians. Continue reading…

federal census record photo

State Census Records

What first comes to mind when genealogists think of census records are the federal censuses that are constitutionally mandated and occur every ten years. The purpose of the federal census is to count the number of people living in the United States in order to apportion Congressional districts. For the first censuses, which began in 1790, getting a head count of people is really all it did. In the early years, from 1790-1840, only the head of household is listed and the number of household members in selected age groups. Beginning in 1850 and continuing through the 1940 census, details are provided for all individuals in each household, such as names of family members; their ages at that certain point in time; their state or country of birth; their parent’s birthplaces; year of immigration; marriage status; occupation(s); etc. Not all of this information is available for every person in every census, however. As years passed, the census became a way to gather even more data about the nation, such as health, housing, employment, growth, and other statistics.

State censuses, because they were taken randomly, remain a much under-utilized resource in American genealogy. State census records not only serve as a substitute for some of the missing 1790, 1800, 1810 and 1890 federal censuses, but they are also valuable population enumerations. State censuses are also important resources because some states asked different questions than the federal census and they were opened to the public faster; some state censuses taken as recently as 1945 are already available.

1905 kansas state census record

From the website: “The Kansas State Board of Agriculture conducted a census
of the state in 1905 (questionnaire above). The census collected the names of all members of household and their age, sex, race or color, and state or country of birth. The census also collected information about members’ state or
country of origin and military service.”


To find out what state censuses exist, what kinds of information they contain, and importantly, where they can be found, reference Ann Lainhart’s first comprehensive list of state census records ever published. State by state, year by year, country by county and district by district, this reference publication is the definitive guide to state census records, even used as source information on the government’s census website.


Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons, 1920 Census Kennedy Carr;, State Censuses.