Tips on searching the U.S. Federal Census, 1790-1930
In order to effectively use the U.S. Federal Census files available through
HeritageQuest Online it is essential that you be aware of the following:
• HeritageQuest Online contains digitized images of each decennial census from
1790-1930. Census data from more recent censuses is not currently available due
to privacy laws. To protect individual privacy, the government doesn't release
census data for 72 years after they take it [92 Stat. 915, Public Law 95-416; October
5, 1978]. This means information from the 1940 census won’t be released until
• HeritageQuest Online contains name indexes for only 12 of the decennial censuses.
This is significant because you can only search data that has been indexed. To
locate information in census years that haven’t been indexed you must use the
browse functionality. Note: The entire 1930 census is available to browse, but only
a small portion is available to search.
Census Images Census Name Indexes
(available for browsing) (available to search)
1930 1930 (CT, DE, MD, TX, VA)
• The only names that are searchable are those belonging to Heads of Household.
The census enumerator would list as “head of household” the person who was
responsible for the care of the home and/or family. This person could be the
husband, a mother with children, a person living alone, etc. To find another member
of the household, search for the surname and look at the image to find the name.
Click on Help to see who was listed as head of household during each census.
(Exception: All names recorded in the 1880 census are indexed and searchable.)
• Over 99% of the 1890 population schedules were destroyed in a fire. Although you
can search the 1890 census, your chances of finding the person you’re looking for
• When using the Advanced Search screen, it is important to note that age, sex, race,
and birthplace information are available only for 1850 forward (with the exception of
1890). If you enter values in these fields your search will return results for 1850
• Remember -- county names and boundaries change over time. When browsing the
census you will be asked to select a year and then a state. After selecting a state
you will get a “View State Map” link. Clicking on it will retrieve a state map with
current county boundaries superimposed over county boundaries as they existed
during the census year you selected to browse.
• Did your name search fail to retrieve a census record for the individual you are
looking for? Consider one of the following possibilities:
Perhaps you, the census enumerator, or the indexer spelled or transcribed
a first or last name incorrectly. Are there alternate spellings you can try?
Using the Advanced Search screen can you enter just a surname, or just a
given name, in combination with other known information (county,
location, age, race, and/or birthplace) in order to find the person you’re
Just because your ancestor appears as William Smith in one census
doesn’t mean he appears as William Smith in others. Have you tried
various nicknames and abbreviations, such as Will Smith, Bill Smith, W.
Smith, or Wm. Smith?
• Are you unable to find the name you searched for on the census image you
retrieved? If so, keep in mind that some images are broken into multiple pages.
View additional pages by clicking on the icons (labeled Subpage A, Subpage B, etc.)
located above the image to the left.