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Census Schedules Microfilm
Table of Contents:

Census Schedules
Censuses are taken to count inhabitants, but they also contain much more information. Census publications and reports provide statistical information. Census schedules are copies of the actual forms filled out by individuals or census takers.

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Federal Census
The federal census, mandated by the U.S. Constitution, originally was to be an enumeration of inhabitants. However, it has evolved to much more than a count of the number of people living in our country. Federal census records can be used to pinpoint the locations of family members within a state or county and to obtain information about other family members. From 1790 to 1840, the only information requested on the censuses was the name of the head of the household and the number of family members between certain ages. Beginning with the 1850 census, other family members are listed by name and age with occupations given. Some subsequent censuses list where the individual was born, where his or her parents were born, the number of years of education and even whether the individual owned or rented property. Remember that census information is only as reliable as the person giving it. It should be used to locate a person during a specific time, not as proof of any vital information.

Twenty-two U.S. censuses have been taken. For privacy reasons, the census is made available to the public 72 years after it was taken. The 1930 census was released on April 1, 2002.

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State Censuses
Many states, Minnesota included, conducted their own censuses during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Check with the historical society of the state you are researching to determine whether state censuses are available. These censuses are especially useful during the 1880-1900 time period. The federal census for 1890 was destroyed, so there is a 20 year period between available U.S. censuses. Families can move several times during a twenty year period. Not all state censuses have indexes.

Minnesota conducted censuses in 1865, 1875, 1885, 1895, and 1905.

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Census Schedule Microfilm Available in the University of Minnesota Libraries

  • Federal Censuses
    The University Libraries owns the Minnesota reels for all the U.S. censuses through 1930, except the 1890 (lost in a fire.) The Libraries have microfilm for the entire United States for the years 1860, 1870, 1910 and 1920. These are a gift from the Minnesota Population Center, which obtained the microfilm for a major research grant.

    With few exceptions, the U of M Libraries will not have indexes to censuses, either in book form or Soundex microfilm. One exception is: Minnesota 1870 Census Index, A-Z, (Raeone Christensen Steuart, ed. Bountiful, Utah: Heritage Quest, 2000) located in Wilson Reference quarto F605 .M56x 2000. This is an every-name index of persons found in the 1870 U.S. Census of Minnesota only.

    The census reels are located in the Periodical Room, Wilson basement level. Look for the sign that reads Census Schedule Microfilm. Locate the microfilm reel you need and use the microfilm viewers/scanners found in the same area.

  • State Census
    Wilson Library holds the microfilm of all Minnesota state censuses, microfilmed from the collection at the Minnesota State Historical Society.

    The census reels are located in the Periodical Room, Wilson basement level, after the U.S. census microfilm. Look for the sign that reads Census Schedule Microfilm. Locate the microfilm reel you need and use the microfilm viewers/scanners found in the same area.

    While no indexes are available, the following reel guide identifies which counties are found on which reels.

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Identifying U.S. Census Reels
The University Libraries do not have census indexes. The National Archives prepares microfilm catalogs identifying which counties are on which reels; you need to use these catalogs, or indexes found in other libraries, to determine which microfilm reels you want to examine. To find the lists online, use the Federal Population Censuses Catalogs of National Archives and Records Administration Microfilm. Within each census, find your state and then county. The number to the left of the county name is the reel number within that census. Paper editions of the catalogs are available in the Government Publications Library in Wilson Library. [Return to Top]

Locating Censuses in MNCAT
All publications from or about a particular census, including microfilm sets, can be located in MNCAT by subject. Use the following format:
  • united states--census, 1st, 1790
  • united states--census, 9th (if you leave off the date, the catalog will fill it in)
  • minnesota--census, 1895


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