Sep 1, 2023

State Censuses – An Underutilized Resource

September 1, 2023

I’ve written about state censuses before, but they’re such a great resource that a little refresher might be helpful. These censuses are full of great information. That makes It hard to understand why they’re underutilized as they are.


State censuses were conducted in non-federal census years. Most often they were taken five years after a federal census, for example, 1875, 1885, and 1895. Not all states took state censuses, but many did. Some only took one or two state censuses; others took them every ten years. Some, such as Colorado in 1885, even took territorial censuses. To find out which states took state censuses and when, start at the government website . The site will give you an overview of states and years that censuses were conducted.


Once you know that a state census was conducted, you can check on the FamilySearch Wiki to see where copies are available. Many states censuses are now digitized and can be found at FamilySearch or Ancestry. Not all of them are indexed and may not show up on a name search of the site. If nothing pops up, check the site catalog. It’s often possible to browse through these unindexed sites. It’s not the easiest way to find someone in a large city, but it can be comparatively simple to locate someone in a more rural area. Browsing does require you to know where someone was living at the date of the census.


For undigitized censuses, state archives and larger genealogical libraries are a good place to start looking.


States censuses can help to track an individual or family between the federal censuses. That’s especially useful for the long break between 1880 and 1900 due to the loss of the 1890 census. State censuses usually contained similar questions to those on the federal censuses. However, sometimes the state censuses asked questions that no federal censuses did.


I recently learned about the Iowa State Census of 1925. If you had relatives in Iowa at that time, trust me, you want to access that census. Over three pages per household, it asked questions ranging from the respondent’s religion to the names of his or her parents. Not all the state censuses are as helpful as the 1925 Iowa one, but all of them help fill in blanks in an ancestor’s timeline.


The state censuses are an underutilized resource that ought to be used more often. If you’re not using them yet, now is the time to begin. You never know what you might find.


Carol Stetser