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Beginning in 1790 a census of the population of the United States has been taken every ten years by the federal government for the purpose of apportioning representatives to the lower house of Congress. No other single group of source records provides more information about persons who lived in this country during the nineteenth century. From census records you can learn specific information about a family but the primary use of census information is to serve as a connector to other records . When you know the place of residence of a family, you then know where to look for other records such as deeds, marriages, births, deaths and wills.

Extant federal population census schedules and indexes for Pennsylvania available to the public follow:

  • 1790 - 1840 Population counts listing only the head of the household by name. Indexed by head of household.
  • 1850 - 1870 Beginning with the 1850 census the name of each person in the household was recorded along with the age, sex, color, occupation and place of birth. With each succeeding decennial census, additional information was recorded. Indexed by head of household.
  • 1880 Two very important items of information for genealogical research were added: the relationship of each person to the head of the household and the birthplace of the father and the mother for each individual. The 1880 Soundex (on microfilm) is a partial index as it is limited to households which included children ten years of age and younger.
  • 1890 This census was destroyed by fire in 1921.
  • 1900 In addition to the information recorded in the previous censuses, the month and year of birth were given for each individual; the number of years married for each married couple; for each woman, the number of children borne and the number still living; whether the family home was rented or owned; if owned, whether mortgaged, and for foreign born, the year of immigration and whether naturalized or first papers filed. The 1900 Soundex (on microfilm) includes all households and has separate listings for persons who were not members of the immediate family or who had a different surname.
  • 1910 Lists most of the information gathered in the 1900 census except the month and year of birth were not recorded. For married persons the number of the current marriage, additional information on employment and persons who were survivors of the Union or Confederate army or navy were noted. Indexing is the same as for 1900. The 1910 Soundex (on microfilm) includes all households and has separate listings for persons who were not members of the immediate family or who had a different surname.
  • 1920 The format and information in the 1920 census schedules closely resembles that of the 1910 census. The 1920 census, however, did not ask about employment on the day of the census, nor did it ask about service in the Union or Confederate army or navy. Questions about the number of children born and how long a couple had been married were also omitted. The 1920 census included four new questions: one asking the year of naturalization and three about mother tongue. Indexing is the same as for 1910. The 1920 Soundex (on microfilm) includes all households and has separate listings for persons who were not members of the immediate family or who had a different surname.
  • 1930 Released in Spring 2002. This census provides a wealth of information for genealogists, and also poses challenges for the researcher. For Pennsylvania there is no Soundex index of names. For information about what is covered in the census and how to search, see the NARA FAQ.  NARA has an excellent website to help with searching: "How to Research the 1930 Census Microfilm"
  • 1940 Released online in the Spring 2012. To protect the privacy of the individuals whose names appear in each schedule, population schedules are restricted for seventy-two years after the census is taken and are not available to researchers during that time.


In addition to the federal population census schedules, researchers can consult mortality schedules which list deaths for the twelve months prior to the census - 1 June of 1850, 1860, 1870 and 1880. They give the name, age, sex, color, marital status, place of birth, occupation, month of death and cause of death. The 1880 schedule also includes the birthplaces of the parents of the deceased. There are name indexes for the years 1850, 1860 and 1870 for Pennsylvania.


  • AGRICULTURE - Every farm with an annual produce worth $100 or more for the year ending 1 June 1850 and 1 June 1860 was enumerated in 1870 and 1880. The name of the owner, agent or tenant and the kind and value of acreage, machinery, livestock and produce were given. The arrangement of the agriculture schedules is geographical with no name index.
  • MANUFACTURES and INDUSTRIAL - In 1820 information was collected relating to the nature and names of articles manufactured. This census is indexed. 1850 through 1880 enumerators collected information about manufacturing, mining, and fisheries for businesses if the annual gross product amounted to $500. There are no name indexes for the industrial schedules.
  • SOCIAL STATISTICS - For 1850, 1860 and 1870, social statistics schedules include information about cemeteries, societies and clubs, churches, etc., arranged geographically.  
  •  DEPENDENT, DEFECTIVE, DELINQUENT CLASSES - An enumeration and "account of their condition" of the insane, idiots, deaf-mutes, blind, homeless children and inhabitants in prison was taken in 1880. The arrangement is geographical with no name index.