Free Tutorial

The Federal Census: An Historical Overview

The National Genealogical Society, in partnership with FamilySearch, created a free course for genealogists called The Federal Census—An Historical Overview. It covers the 1790 to 1930 censuses.

NOTE: The following series required flash software to view the videos and support from the provider is no longer available. We are in the process of looking for an alternative viewing program to bring this series back online. Thank you for your patience while we resolve this technical issue. 

This series of five interactive, online lessons developed by NGS and designed by FamilySearch, will help those interested in finding their family in the Federal Population Schedules. Students also will learn more about the different information recorded in each census.

Learning how to use US census records is fundamental for family history researchers who are getting started or who wish to broaden their expertise in American Genealogy.

Tutorial (The tutorial is currently not available due to loss of Flash software availability).

  • Lesson 1: The Federal Census-An Historical Overview
  • Lesson 2: 20th Century Censuses, 1930-1900
  • Lesson 3: Federal Population Schedules, 1890-1880
  • Lesson 4: Federal Population Schedules, 1870-1850
  • Lesson 5: Federal Population Schedule, 1840-1790

Note on 1940 Census: This tutorial was produced and introduced in early 2012 before the release of the 1940 Census on 2 April 2012. Although the video does not cover the 1940 census, you can learn more and access a copy of the 1940 census form at the National Archives website. Apply concepts that you learned in Lesson 1 when exploring the 1940 Census.

The census date of record was 1 April 1940. A number of new questions were asked including where people were five years before, highest educational grade achieved, and information about wages. This census introduced sampling techniques: one in twenty people were asked additional questions on the census form. Other innovations included a field test of the census in 1939.