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Census research tools
Using Census Records to Discover Your Family History
Census records are an incredibly useful tool for researching your ancestry. They provide an important source of information to help you to determine where family members lived, how many people lived with them, their marital status and their children. Census records are available for a variety of nations including the US, Canada and the UK; they can help you to trace the migration of your ancestors and their families. These records are often one of the first stops on the road to uncovering your family history.

Where to Find US Census Records.
In the United States the Census records are kept by the National Archives in Washington, DC. There are also National Archives offices located in several other US cities from which you can perform a search for free. These cities are Anchorage, Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Fort Worth, Kansas City, Laguna Niguel, New York City, Philadelphia, Pittsfield, San Francisco and Seattle. If you do not live in or near one of these cities, there are other ways to access census records.

Several websites have transcribed the census records and made them available for research online. Some of these websites require a membership fee to access the information, while others are free of charge. Some of the pay websites can be searched for free from certain locations including libraries. The government has created a website where census records are in the process of being transcribed and made available free of charge as well. You can also purchase or rent rolls of microfilm from the National Archives. The catalog of microfilms is available online and can be searched in preparation for a visit or for purchase or rental.

Finding Census Records for Other Nations.
The same websites that offer transcriptions of US Census records may also offer records from other nations as well. Each nation differs in how much information they make available online, and in most cases there is a fee to access information if it is not available through a government run website. For some nations you may need to visit in person in order to view the census records. Of course, a visit to the nation in question is not always possible; although the staff in the records offices rarely provides researching services, there are organizations and individuals who will perform research for you for a fee. Be sure to hire someone reputable and who knows their way around the records offices in order to get the best results.

As the gathering of information in large databases available online continues, census records from around the world will become more readily available for search. Currently, you can expect to pay a fee in most cases in order to gain access to the most comprehensive collection of census information from around the world.

What Can be Learned from Census Records?
While searching through the census records can help you to track down ancestors by surname search and complete your family tree, this is only the surface of the information these records can provide. The census gathers information about more than just who is living where; it provides a look at the social and economic circumstances of your ancestors as well. You can learn things about their occupation and income level. These records go a long way back; the first US Census took place in 1790, and one has been taken every ten years since.

Census records can help you to discover how your family's fortunes changed through the years, and also see trends in wealth and social status. They can also help you to track down movements of family members from nation to nation as well as within a nation, and tell you how many children each family had and where those children went. Census records can often help you to locate people who have disappeared from your previous searches. They provide evidence of immigration, proof of age, and information on births where birth records may be difficult to locate. Census records are a vital part of any genealogy research.

Accessibility of Census Records.
Census records are kept private by law for 72 years after the census is taken; this means that you can only search the records that are older than this. The 1940 Census data is scheduled to become the latest available to the public in April of 2012. Since a Census is taken every ten years, you can expect a previous set of census records to become available every ten years as it reaches the 72 year mark, revealing more information every time. Since records in the last 72 years are easier to come by than those from previous centuries, the 72 year law should not have a major impact on your ability to locate your ancestors.

Once made public, the census records are available from the archives and also available to be transcribed and made available for search on the various genealogy websites dedicated to this purpose. The process of transcription is a long one due to the volume of information available, and it is ongoing. It is likely that in the near future nearly all of the census records from past years will become publically available on the internet, and as each set of records is released for public viewing it will be a faster task to add them.

Census records are one of the best sources of ancestry information and provide a wealth of information to those seeking out family history. They are one of the most popular search tools along with birth, marriage and death records for good reason; the information they contain is official and thus can be relied upon. They are also updated every ten years, providing a continuum of information that helps researchers to track ancestors and locate new ones. As they become more readily available on the internet, census records will become one of the first lines of research used to track ancestry. Soon a visit to the National Archives will no longer be needed, and researchers can expect to find all of the information needed quickly and easily without leaving home.

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