Did you know that one of the best ways to find your ancestors and learn about their lives is by looking at the census? The decennial count of all households in the United States is not only important for determining how the federal government allocates resources, but it is also a treasure trove of historical information.

Think of the census as a snapshot in time. Information gleaned from the census provides clues about the lives of your family members and their ancestors in that particular year. Many states conducted a census as well. Kansas, for example, conducted their state from 1855-1940 in years ending in “5”. Be sure to check for census data on the state level as well.

What can you learn from the census? Super useful information such as the following:

  • Where you ancestor lived
  • Their street and house number
  • Where they were born
  • Where their parents were born
  • Approximate age
  • Level of education
  • Occupation
  • If their house was rented or owned
  • Marital status
  • Years married
  • Names and ages of others living in the household

The census is accessible at the library. You can visit any KCKPL branch to use the Ancestry database (or access it at home with your library card number). You can also create a free FamilySearch account to search the census or use the Kansas Census microfilm at the Main Library.

Below is a basic search for famous Kansas City, Kansan Ed Asner in 1930. This is just a glimpse of what you can expect to find when conducting your online search. You can view the transcription for better readability, or you can download the original handwritten census page.

There are a few important things to note about census data, however:

  • Misspellings are rampant. It may take some creative searching to find a match for your ancestor. Census takers’ handwriting is often difficult to decipher, and transcriptions are not always accurate. One easy workaround for this problem is to use an asterisk as a “wild card” in place of certain letters. For example, if you are searching for “Anderson,” you may want to search for “Anders*n,” which will give you results for not only Ander “son” but also Ander ”sen.”

Another example: Ed Asner also appears in the census as “Eddie Asdee.” A search for “As*” will result in records for Asner, Asdee, and any possible names starting with “As.” Play around with your search terms, and you will get the hang of how it works.

  • The 1890 census was destroyed in a fire, and very little data from that year exists.
  • It wasn’t until 1860 that all members of a household were listed. For 1850 and before, you will only find the name of the head of household listed.
  • Census data is kept private for 72 years. The most current census available is 1940. The 1950 census will be available beginning in April 2022.

Need more help? Contact the Kansas Room Librarian for an appointment or for a virtual training session.