It’s a good idea to look up all your ancestors in the Census. This helps you picture them as real, living people, not just names and dates. The U.S. Census was begun in 1790, for the purpose of apportioning the House of Representatives, and has continued every 10 years since. It’s used to figure the size of congressional districts, and also to provide other statistical information about our population.
In the censuses from 1790 through 1840, only the head of household was listed, with other household members (including slaves) listed as numbers in various age categories. By the way, slavery was legal in all original 13 colonies (except in Georgia from 1733 until 1750) and continued to be legal after they achieved statehood. Northern states gradually abolished slavery, but you may very well find that your Northern ancestor owned a slave! If a woman is listed as head of household, she’s probably a widow.
Beginning in 1850, all members of the household, and free blacks as well, were listed individually with their ages and relationship to the head of household. Occupations, school attendance, and literacy were also noted. Before 1850, most Americans, especially in the South, were illiterate and didn’t know how to spell their names. The census taker had to write the name the way it sounded to him. So, when you look for your ancestor, consider all possible variations in spelling.
Beginning with the 1880 census, each person was asked where their parents were born. This is a big help in finding the next generation further back.
The 1890 census was destroyed by fire in Washington; it does not exist. Additionally, some of the early censuses may be missing or incomplete for some states.
The Census is kept confidential for 72 years. At present, the 1940 census is the most recent one available to the public.
The best place to find censuses is the website http://www.Ancestry.com .