Genealogy: Availability of 1850-1940 U.S. Federal and state census records

Census TakerBy Barry J. Ewell
In this article you will find an overview of what 1850-1940 U.S. Federal and state census records are available for research.

Over the years as a genealogist, I have spent too much time looking for information about my ancestors in a record that did not exist.  It never entered my mind to even ask the question, “What records existed during the time my ancestor lived in this location?” One of my earliest assumptions was that census records existed for every person for the time period in which they lived in the United States. And it wasn’t until I asked a resource librarian, why am I not finding census records for Virgina in 1790-1800, that I learned that the records were completely lost during the war of 1812.  After further discussion, I learned about Virginia state censuses that were available from the late 1700’s and that the 1790 census was reconstructed using census substitute records.

Among the more prevalent and valued records are the Federal and state census records.  The earliest census records contain information on people born well before the American Revolution, while the 1940 schedules — the most recent ones open to public inspection — contain information on many people who are still living. Using these records, a researcher might conceivably trace a family line from a living person down to an ancestor born more than 250 years ago. From the 1850 census on, the names, ages, occupations and birthplaces (country or state only) of each member of a household were included.

I have created two charts for the time period 1850-1940 that show the availability of  U.S. Federal census records and state census records.

1850-1940 U.S. Federal census records availability
The following chart provides an overview of the availability of the 1790-1840 U.S. Federal census records. Legend for the chart follows:

  • Yes Census data is available for most if not all of the state’s counties.
  • Lost:  Census was conducted but lost. Search to see if state censuses exist for that time period as well as other census substitutes.
  • Part: 1890 Census was lost.  There are a very few fragments that exist for a few counties in these states.
  • N/A: State was not a recognized as a state or territory and/or was not included in the U.S. Federal census.

These censuses are available through FamilySearch.org, Ancestry.com and other online databases.  See the chart “Available U.S. Federal census records 1790-1840” which follows this chart.  The chart will provide a listing of the state censuses that you can also search.

State1850186018701880189019001910192019301940
AlabamaYesYesYesYesPartYesYesYesYesYes
AlaskaN/AN/AN/AYesLostYesYesYesYesYes
ArizonaN/AN/AYesYesLostYesYesYesYesYes
ArkansasYesYesYesYesLostYesYesYesYesYes
CaliforniaYesYesYesYesLostYesYesYesYesYes
ColoradoN/AN/AN/AYesLostYesYesYesYesYes
ConnecticutYesYesYesYesLostYesYesYesYesYes
DelawareYesYesYesYesLostYesYesYesYesYes
District of ColumbiaYesYesYesYesPartYesYesYesYesYes
FloridaYesYesYesYesLostYesYesYesYesYes
State1850186018701880189019001910192019301940
GeorgiaYesYesYesYesPartYesYesYesYesYes
HawaiiN/AN/AN/AN/AN/AN/AYesYesYesYes
IdahoN/AN/AYesYesLostYesYesYesYesYes
IllinoisYesYesYesYesPartYesYesYesYesYes
IndianaYesYesYesYesLostYesYesYesYesYes
Indian & Dakota TerritoryN/AYesYesYesSee (Oklahoma, North Dakota, South Dakota)
IowaYesYesYesYesLostYesYesYesYesYes
KansasN/AYesYesYesLostYesYesYesYesYes
KentuckyYesYesYesYesLostYesYesYesYesYes
LouisianaYesYesYesYesLostYesYesYesYesYes
State1850186018701880189019001910192019301940
MaineYesYesYesYesLostYesYesYesYesYes
MarylandYesYesYesYesLostYesYesYesYesYes
MassachusettsYesYesYesYesLostYesYesYesYesYes
MichiganYesYesYesYesLostYesYesYesYesYes
MinnesotaYesYesYesYesPartYesYesYesYesYes
MississippiYesYesYesYesLostYesYesYesYesYes
MissouriYesYesYesYesLostYesYesYesYesYes
MontanaN/AN/AYesYesLostYesYesYesYesYes
NebraskaN/AYesYesYesLostYesYesYesYesYes
NevadaN/AN/AYesYesLostYesYesYesYesYes
State1950186018701880189019001910192019301940
New HampshireYesYesYesYesLostYesYesYesYesYes
New JerseyYesYesYesYesPartYesYesYesYesYes
New MexicoYesYesYesYesLostYesYesYesYesYes
New YorkYesYesYesYesPartYesYesYesYesYes
North CarolinaYesYesYesYesPartYesYesYesYesYes
North DakotaSee Indian & Dakota TerritoryLostYesYesYesYesYes
OhioYesYesYesYesPartYesYesYesYesYes
OklahomaSee Indian & Dakota TerritoryLostYesYesYesYesYes
OregonYesYesYesYesLostYesYesYesYesYes
PennsylvaniaYesYesYesYesLostYesYesYesYesYes
State1850186018701880189019001910192019301940
Rhode IslandYesYesYesYesLostYesYesYesYesYes
South CarolinaYesYesYesYesLostYesYesYesYesYes
South DakotaSee Indian & Dakota TerritoryPartYesYesYesYesYes
TennesseeYesYesYesYesLostYesYesYesYesYes
TexasYesYesYesYesPartYesYesYesYesYes
UtahYesYesYesYesLostYesYesYesYesYes
VermontYesYesYesYesLostYesYesYesYesYes
VirginiaYesYesYesYesLostYesYesYesYesYes
WashingtonN/AYesYesYesLostYesYesYesYesYes
West VirginiaN/AN/AYesYesLostYesYesYesYesYes
WisconsinYesYesYesYesLostYesYesYesYesYes
WyomingN/AN/AYesYesLostYesYesYesYesYes
U.S. Positions1850186018701880189019001910192019301940
American SamoaN/AN/AN/AN/AN/AN/AN/AN/AYesYes
Canal ZoneN/AN/AN/AN/AN/AN/AN/AYesYesYes
Puerto RicoN/AN/AN/AN/AN/AN/AN/AYesYesYes
QuamN/AN/AN/AN/AN/AN/AN/AYesYesYes
Virgin IslandsN/AN/AN/AN/AN/AN/AN/AYesYesYes

*Data for the above chart was compiled from information provided from www.archives.gov.

Available state census records after 1850
State censuses were conducted by states in off years in between the Federal census. Every state was in charge of whether and when they would conduct a census.  The following chart will give the availability and year for state census records that exist after 1850. These records usually contain the same type of information as in the Federal census as well as additional questions that are unique to that state such as naturalization, military service, occupation, relationship, state and county of origin, mortality, education and voting status.

Like the Federal census, the state census is a snapshot of the home and its inhabitants at a given time. The information on the state census can be used to construct, confirm, add, and/or delete information from the family profile you have begun building from the Federal census.  For example, I have used the state census to find children that were born and died in between the Federal census, confirmed deaths of wife’s, husbands and grandparents, marriages of children, new marriages for head of households, other locations to search and much more.

These censuses are located at the state archives and/or libraries (note: many are online), through microfilm at LDS Family History Centers, online transcripts of counties within a state from historical societies, and online databases such as Ancestry.com.

StateAvailability of state censuses by state before
Alabama185018551866
Alaska1870187818791881188518871890-95
1904-0719141917
Arizona1866186718691872187418761880
1882
Arkansas18651911
California1852
Colorado186118661885
ConnecticutNo state census exists.
DelawareNo state census exists after 1850.
District of Columbia18671878
Florida1855186618671868187518851895
19351945
Georgia18521853185918651879
IllinoisNo state census exists after 1850.
Hawaii187818901896
IdahoNo state census exists.
Indiana1853185718711877188318891901
191319191931
Iowa1851185218541856188518951905
19151925
Kansas1855186518751885189519051915
1925
KentuckyNo state census exists.
Louisiana18531858
MaineNo state census exists after 1850.
MarylandNo state census exists after 1850.
Massachusetts1855186518541864187418841888
18941904
Michigan1854186418741884188818941904
Minnesota1853185518571865187518851895
1905
Mississippi1850185318601866
Missouri185218561860186418761880
MontanaNo state census exists.
Nebraska185418551856186518691885
Nevada186218631875
New HampshireNo state census exists.
New Jersey1855186518751885189519051915
New Mexico1885
New York1855186518751892190519151925
North CarolinaNo state census exists after 1850.
North Dakota188519151925
OhioNo state census exists.
Oklahoma18901907
Oregon1850185318541855185618571858
1859186518701875188518951905
PennsylvaniaNo state census exists.
Rhode Island1865187518851905191519251935
South Carolina18691875
South Dakota1885189519051915192519351945
Tennessee1891
TexasNo state census exists after 1850.
Utah1856
VermontNo state census exists.
VirginiaNo state census exists after 1850.
Washington1856185718581860187118741877
1878187918801881188318851887
1889189118921898
West VirginiaNo state census exists.
WisconsinNo state census exists after 1850.
Wyoming18751878

Data for the above chart was compiled from information provided by each state historical society and archives.gov.