Penn State Libraries
Federal Depository Library since 1858
What is a census?
A census is an exercise in which an entire statistical population is counted.
What is a statistical population?
A “statistical population” of a census can count objects beyond people. It could include: businesses, houses, cars, farmers, crops, jails etc…
Consequently there are many US Censuses you could explore:
Who are my relatives?
More often than not, though, people talking about the census are referring to the Decennial Census of Population and Housing which collects all sorts of information about people and households in the United States, Puerto Rico, and the Island Areas [American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands].
Officially, the Census of Population and Housing is taken for the purpose of legislative apportionment and redistricting. [Redistricting Data Program] Changes can affect the level of federal assistance available to a census geographic area and its population as well as the number of representatives an area may send to Washington.
Personal information is not released until 72 years after the decennial census is taken [Genealogy]. However, because this information does become available, the decennial census is a primary source for genealogists and family historians. 1950 Census is the Web site for the Census Bureau's latest release of personal information from the census.
Scope of this guide
This guide is designed to assist you in finding resources that provide summaries and visualizations of the data or number counts. It also will direct you to resources that will allow you to download data to create your own analysis.
Census geography can be quite confusing for the novice. The Census Bureau has produced a number of videos that can help you understand terms like tract, blocks, or consolidate government. As well as the history of these geographic units.
The Census Bureau has also created a helpful Quick Facts, but for those who simply want a single page visual tool their Standard Hierarchy of Census Geographic Entities is adequate.