by Abby Glann

Sticking with the theme of sources, one great source to use to start filling in a lot of blanks fast is a census. Most areas use some sort of census to keep track of the growth of their population. The most recent one available in the US is the 1940 census, while Canada and the UKs most recent released is the 1911 (following their 100 year rule). The kind of information these usually give you is the head of the household, the spouse or if the head was widowed, and the children living in the house at that time. Though you can’t depend on them 100 percent, they are fantastic sources to start with. From them you get a general idea of the birth year-most are estimates unless the taker specifically asked for the year, where they were born, an occupation, where their parents were born, and if you take the time to look at the neighbors, you’ll often find other relatives or future in-laws.

All this information, even when just an estimate, can be quite helpful for finding future sources and ancestors. A great place to access many census is through (it’s free!). If you know your great grandparents’ names, general birth dates, and places you can usually find them in a census somewhere. Depending on your age, you may even find your parents or grandparents. The US has census data back to 1790, but the most useful censuses, especially for beginners, are from 1850 and after. The UK started taking them regularly in 1801, and every ten years after. Check out (or if you have a subscription somewhere else like and find your family!

If you know of a great site to access the census data for another country, let us know about it in the comments and we’ll add the links to this post. We know we tend to be US-centric, but want to make sure we’re helping *all* of our cousins.

One Response to “Tip #9: Common Census”

  1. Actually, in Canada, the census can be released after 92 years, not 100, so the latest available Census is 1921. It’s available for free on (not sure if it’s free from other countries, but it is in Canada).

    Previous censuses can be accessed for free on the Library and Archives Canada (LAC) website ( The only problem is that the search function doesn’t pick up spelling variations like the search on FamilySearch or Ancestry, so you need the exact spelling of a name as it appears on the census (which is often wrong!) to find it. Family Search has the index to each census, but not the image. So what I do, if I can’t find the person I’m seeking by searching the LAC site directly, is to search on, note the exact spelling of the name, and search for that exact spelling on the LAC site. Most of the time, that will find you the census page your ancestors are on.