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Census Records

Census records provide a wealth of information about an individual and their lives. Information varies depending on the year of the census with later censuses having a large amount of details. Examples of information that can be included in a census: family members’ names, ages, and relationship to head of household; birthplaces; age; marital status; occupations; citizenship status; literacy; school attendance and much more. Early census data is very sparse while a census conducted in later years have more detailed information.

The Federal Census was taken every ten years beginning in 1790. Census records created by the federal government are restricted for 72 years. The available census records span from 1790-1940. In addition to the federal census, individual states prepared census records as well. Initially, state census records were prepared for the purpose of gaining statehood status. Generally, state census records were taken in years ending in 5.

Another type of census records are the “Indian” census rolls. These census rolls are not comprehensive because only registered people with the tribe were counted. The “Indian” census rolls have information on names, relationships, place of residence, and blood quantum. These records are arranged by tribe name and then alphabetically by surname.

Not everyone is listed on a census. The census taker might have missed people, or found no one at home after repeated attempts to contact them.

The census information is not always accurate. The census taker reported the information that was given to him as best as he understood it. People did not have to provide proof of the accuracy of their statements, and language was often a barrier. In some instances, neighbors or young children provided the responses to the census taker’s questions.

Census takers also counted people in jails, convents, orphanages, hospitals, insane asylums, poorhouses, etc.

To find individuals on a census, you can search census indexes by year on Ancestry.com (if you subscribe) or FamilySearch.org. The Archives and Area Research Center subscribes to the Library edition of Ancestry, and it is accessible from any UW-Green Bay Library computer. If you are a campus employee or student, you may access the Ancestry database without being on campus by logging in with your campus credentials.

If you cannot locate your ancestor in a census index, but you know what location they resided in during a certain time period, it is worth searching that town’s entire census, page-by-page to look for yourself. Handwriting is often misinterpreted when indexed, but you may recognize names yourself.

In addition to accessing census records via Ancestry or Family Search, you can view the following census records at the Archives:

Census Type Availability
Federal 1820, 1830, 1840, 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1890*, 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930, 1940
State 1836, 1838, 1842, 1846, 1847, 1855, 1865**, 1875, 1885, 1895, 1905
"Indian Census Rolls" Menominee, Oneida, Stockbridge, and Munsee Tribes 1885-1942. Only people registered with the tribes were counted this way.

*Most of the 1890 census was destroyed by fire. Only a portion for Wisconsin containing the Civil War veterans and their widows remains.
**Abstract only-does not list individual names of all people in the household, only number of males and females.

If you would like us to conduct research in census records, please complete and return the census record research request form.