Many patrons searching family records use the US Census records. As you know from your own experience filling out the census forms every 10 years, an enormous amount of raw data is collected. The Census Bureau has on file copies of the forms each person completes with their name and the data. By law, that material can't be made public for 72 years. Statistical compilations are made from the raw data and released, but care is taken to be sure that individuals' names are not linked to the data included in the published tabulations. The raw files, of course, are wonderful sources of family information, so genealogists are interested in the older files that are open to the public. The genealogists want to see copies of the original forms, not the compiled statistics.
The census has been taken since 1790 and this raw data is available on microfilm through the 1910 census (the 1920 census data will be available after 1992). Census data collected after that is still confidential. There is one exception - the 1890 census was destroyed by fire. Only a very few parts still exist. The microfilm for those parts is available for purchase from the National Archives, and many libraries have bought it.
Go to How to Tell Which Roll of Microfilm to Order.
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