The U.S. Census is required by the Constitution to enumerate the population. Every ten years the Congress decides what questions to ask.
Starting in 1790 through 1840 the Census named only the Head of Family with a count of household members by gender and age. With no birthdates or family members it is hard to know if you have found the right person but there are advanced techniques for using the 1790-1840 Censuses.
Starting in 1850 they started to list the names and identifying information for all free people. (Slaves are listed in a separate Slave Schedule.)
Almost all of the 1890 Census was burned in a fire so it is not listed on the worksheets.
The most recent Census available is 1940. The Censuses are released 72 years after they are taken for privacy reasons.
In the 1940 Census they did something new and helpful. You will see some entries with an X with a circle around it. That indicates the informant. You’ll see many were the wives who were caught at home.
Genealogists can hardly wait for 2022 when the 1950 Census will be released.
U.S. Census Headings are provided because the headings change for each Census. They are difficult to read on old Census records so you hold the sheets up to interpret information you can see on a computer.
Census History worksheets are used to record a person or family’s information during the years they were living. People can be hard to find when their names are misspelled, so record any name variations you find.
If you are tracing a woman in particular, record who the head of household was (her father, spouse, boarding house owner). If you can’t find a man, look for his spouse, especially if her name is easier to spell or more predictable.