Find Your Ancestors in the Census

Have you filled out your Census form this year? Completing the Census is important for your community now and for future generations of genealogy researchers. With your library card you can use HeritageQuest Online to find Census records from previous generations and other resources from the comfort of your home.

Census records have been the foundation of my family research. Since I started out not knowing much about my family, I found searching the census filled in the gaps. After interviewing my family members and learning what they did know, I was able to take that information to search the census records to help me build my family tree. You never know what you might find.

HeritageQuest Online is the most popular free source of U.S. Census records that are at least 72 years old. The HeritageQuest interface is run by Ancestry.com. It looks just like Ancestry.com and it utilizes Ancestry’s database of Census records. The Census is taken every 10 years and has been since 1790. The National Archives release census records to the general public 72 years after Census Day. In 2022 the 1950 Census data will become available.

The Census can help you find ancestors who lived from 1940 backwards. You’ll want to collect every Census in which your ancestors lived. That way you can find out vital information such as when and where they were born, where their parents were born, who lived with them in the house and their occupation. Each census is different and asks different questions. Some years list education, others list how many children were born to a mother and how many are living. Others list citizenship and nationality. Look here to find out the census questions for each census year. Sometimes you may find several generations living in the same household. Or you may find them on the same census page living next door!

Limited Time Access to Ancestry Library Addition from Home

Ancestry Library Edition is available now through April 30 from home while libraries closed due to COVID-19 Safer at Home orders. If you have questions or need genealogical advice, please contact our resident genealogist, Sherri Camp at scamp@tscpl.org.

More Resources Available Through HeritageQuest

  • Genealogy & Local History Books has full downloadable copies of local and family history books and now has City Directories added to the list.
  • The Freedman’s Bank Records contain African American and Reconstruction Era resources.
  • The Revolutionary Bank Records can help you trace your ancestry back to the Revolutionary War era.
  • Periodical Source Index (PERSI) doesn’t have images but it is the largest index to genealogy and local history periodical articles in the world. It is an index to 11,000 titles published by local, state, national and international societies and organizations. With surnames and locations, PERSI is a great way to find new ways to search for your family.
  • In the US. Serial Set you can search for information about people and places in the Memorials, Petitions and Private Relief Actions of the U.S. Congress. In addition to the Census, HeritageQuest has new non-population schedules for 1850-1880, new mortality schedules (1850-1855), and the Indian Census (1885-1940). Also, every name is indexed for every census year.

The Census Guide Map is a book online at HeritageQuest. It will help you to learn about the counties in each state during each census year. Counties often change and morph into other counties. This is important information you will need if you cannot find your family members and you are sure of the place where they lived. The records could be in another adjacent or parent county.

Find more online family research tools on our Genealogy Popular Tools page. If  you have any questions, feel free to contact me, genealogy librarian at scamp@tscpl.org!

Sherri Camp

As a veteran genealogist, I love teaching and sharing digital family history and genealogy techniques and helping people solve genealogy problems. Being the Genealogy Librarian at the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library is so much fun! I work to promote a greater knowledge of family, history, and heritage.