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United States Federal Census - April 1, 2020, Census Day

By Karen Martin, TVHS Archivist

The U.S. Constitution mandates that the country count its population once every 10 years. The 2020 Census will determine congressional representation, inform hundreds of billions in federal funding every year, and provide data that will impact communities for the next decade. The 2020 Census will provide a snapshot of our nation-who we are, where we live, and so much more. Fill out your census form today. (

The first census was conducted in 1790. Since then there has been a census taken every 10 years. Although the primary use of those historical censuses today is for genealogical research, they were not created for that purpose but for statistical purposes.

The 1790 thru 1840 censuses only recorded the name of the head of the family. All other family and household members were recorded in categories by number. Additional statistical questions were added each year. The 1840 census contains a category for the name of anyone in the household receiving a pension for Revolutionary or military service.

The 1850 census was the first to list the names of all members of a household, however, the relationship (wife, daughter, son-in-law, etc.).to the head of the household was not stated until the 1880 census. Each subsequent census asked the basic questions, name, age, etc. but with more detailed questions and more categories added. Beginning with the 1900 census questions were asked regarding immigration and naturalization. The 1910 census asked about Union or Confederate Veterans. The 1930 census asked if you owned a radio.

A census is released by the National Archives 72 years after it was taken. The most recent census released was the 1940 in 2012. The 1940 asked about employment with questions regarding public emergency work with WPA (Works Projects Administration), CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps), etc.

One of the greatest losses was that of the 1890 census. On January 10, 1921, a fire in the Commerce Department building, Washington, DC, resulted in the destruction of most of the 1890 census. The “Schedules of Union Civil War Veterans or their Widows” did survive.

For an overview of the US census and a listing of the questions asked visit

[Since the writing of the above publication access to the census has become more readily available and searchable online through several genealogical websites]

When searching the census keep in mind the reason for their creation and that there may be errors or incorrect information from the standpoint of family history, i.e. errors in name spelling, transcription errors, who provided the data to the enumerator (census taker) and did that person have the correct information, etc.

There are several websites which provide research access to the U.S. census. Some are subscription services you can join directly, or you can access them through your public library. For library access check out your library’s online resources and databases. For members of the Emma S. Clark Memorial Library visit and access these sites remotely from home and see what else they have to offer.


Many public libraries provide access to the Ancestry library edition but only onsite at the library. Special note: The provider, ProQuest, is temporarily providing library users remote access. If you are an Emma S. Clark Library card holder just go to the library’s database link above, scroll down to Ancestry and log on with your library card number and password. Ancestry does offer personal subscriptions allowing you to create family trees, etc. (a free 14-day trial is available).

Heritage Quest

Listed among the library’s databases, select and log on with your library account information.

My Heritage

Listed among the library’s databases, select and log on with your library account information. Also available as a subscription through their website (a free trial is available).

Family Search

Log on directly through the Family Search website. This is a free site, just set up a user account to log on. FamilySearch, historically known as the Genealogical Society of Utah, with over 100 years of record gathering and preservation, was founded in 1894. It is a nonprofit organization and website offering genealogical records, education, and software through The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints whose Family History Library has the largest collection of genealogical and historical records in the world. The Family Tree section allows user-generated content to be contributed to the genealogical database. There are over 1 billion individuals in the tree. The historical records database contains over two billion digital images, including digitized books, digitized microfilm, and other digital records There is a wealth of information on this site with resources, tip sheets, etc. compiled by experts in family history and information on researching and resources throughout the world.

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