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Last Updated: Dec 4, 2015 URL: Print Guide RSS UpdatesEmail Alerts

Census - Overview Print Page

Census - Overview

The Census of Population and Housing is required by the Constitution and has been taken every 10 years since 1790.  Early on it counted people by sex and race, and that's about it.  Over the years it has evolved and continues to evolve to count a great variety of demographic, economic, and social characteristics of the United States population.  In 2010 the American Community Survey replaced the Census "long form" to more consistently and accurately count many of the social and demographic characteristics. 

Alderman Library owns print Census reports back to 1790. Most of the census reports are shelved in the 3rd floor New Stacks under C 3.YEAR (C 3.1810:, C 3.1820, etc.). Consult with or email library staff for assistance.  The Data Librarian can assist with manipulating more recent census data using tools like the Geolytics CDs and DataFerret.

The resources below provide access to many Census services and products.  Other pages of this guide provide more fine-tuned access to specific years, products, or services.  For more genealogical information from the census (names of people) see our Census - Genealogy  and our more general Genealogy guides.

  • American Factfinder 2
    American FactFinder 2 is the entry point for the 2010 census. American Factfinder can produce both tables and maps. For more in depth census research the Scholars' Lab can provide assistance and when appropriate, offer some easier-to-use alternatives.
  • Census Bureau
    Gateway to the myriad resources of the Census Bureau.
  • Social Explorer
    "Social Explorer provides easy access to demographic information about the United States, from 1790 to present. To get started, select "Maps" or "Reports"." Much of the data in Social Explorer is from the Census. See also the free version of Social Explorer if you are not a UVA faculty member, student or staff.
  • Census MIgration Flows Mapper
    You can see what areas are growing and what areas are declining in population. See for a tutorial.
  • Missouri Data Center - Links to Data
    Choose the State and County you are interested in, and generate data tables from several Census datasets on the fly.
  • Census - Genealogical Information
    Information about HeritageQuest, census name rolls owned by Alderman, and other information useful in genealogical research.
  • County City Data Books
    This resource provides access to the 1944 through 2000 County and City Data Books. This service provides the opportunity to create custom printouts and/or customized data subsets (subsets only available for 1988-2000).
  • Guides to the Census
    Three top guides: University of Michigan's Historical Census Guide, with an excellent overview of various historical census materials, Michigan's Census guide and the NC State University Census Guide.
  • Historical Census Browser
    Examine United States population census data for any census year from 1790 to 1960, producing tables and sorting data by location and by category. Also examine selected topics across several censuses, e.g., the number of free blacks ("free colored") by state and county.
  • Historical Census Materials from the Census
    Includes PDFs of ALL the older census volumes
  • National Historical Geographic Information System (NHGIS)
    The NHGIS is a project to create and freely disseminate a database incorporating all available aggregate historic census information for the U.S. between 1790-2000. Data covers social and economic topics, 1790-2000. Check the "Data Availability" link for a chart on the status of included data. The The data is free, but users must register to download data. Census block shapefiles are available for download state-by-state.
  • University of Minnesota Population Center Data Projects
    Provides many datasets, includng PUMS and IPUMS. See a recent study that brings into question some of the age and sex data in these files.

Contact Information

Barbie Selby
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Reference Room, 4th floor
University of Virginia
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