Free census searching and census images

I love census records, and over the past few weeks I’ve figured out how to view most of them for free. Sometimes it takes a tiny bit of work, but I think it’s worth it to not have to beg yet another favor out of a friend with an Ancestry account… ūüôā

Images of all censuses from all years are available free from¬†http://archive.org. The problem is that they don’t have any way to search by name – you need to know the state, roll number or enumeration district, and page number in order to see the image you want. Sometimes this is easy, and sometimes it takes a bit of sleuthing and common sense.

I always start by searching familysearch.org. If you click this link (it will open in a new tab), you will get to this page:

Choose the year you want to search, and enter the name you are looking for:

You’ll end up with a bunch of results;¬†you can either refine your search to narrow it down, or to change the names a bit, or scroll until you find who you’re looking for. When you find the name you want, click on it:

And now comes the moment of truth. See that box on the right that says “View image”? Here’s where I’ve lucked out, because the 1900 census is one of the ones that familysearch.org has online. So it’s as easy as that: I click on view image, and it will appear.

But in many cases, familysearch.org does not have the images online, and the box will instead say something like “Explore viewing options,” which will direct you to ancestry or other sites that you have to pay for:

But here’s where a bit of logical thinking and archive.org come in. From the information given in the record on familysearch.org, you can always find what you need to see the image on archive.org. The¬†familysearch.org record always includes a series of numbers with different names, like “District” or “Sheet Number and Letter” or “Affiliate Publication Number” or “Page Number” or “Affiliate Film Number”. You will use some or all of these numbers, depending on what year you are searching:

1790 – Use familysearch.org¬†to find basic information, then open a new window with¬†http://archive.org/details/1790_census¬†and¬†choose your state. The “Affiliate Film Number” given on familysearch.org will be the “Volume Reel” number on archive.org (but in this year, there is usually only one reel per state anyway). Click on the reel you need, then choose an option under “View this book” in the left column.¬†The “Page Number” given on familysearch.org will be the number written in the top right corner on the image from archive.org.

1800 – This one is a bit harder.¬†Use familysearch.org¬†to find basic information,¬†then open a new window with¬†http://archive.org/details/1800_census¬†and¬†choose your state.¬†The “Affiliate Film Number” given on familysearch.org will be the “Volume Reel” number on archive.org.¬†Click on the reel you need, then choose an option under “View this book” in the left column.¬†The “Page Number” given on familysearch.org will be a number written on each page of the images from archive.org. The problem is, sometimes the pages here don’t progress in logical order, so you do have to page through a bit.

1810 –¬†Use familysearch.org¬†to find basic information,¬†then open a new window with¬†http://archive.org/details/1810_census¬†and¬†choose your state.¬†The “Affiliate Film Number” given on familysearch.org will be the “Volume Reel” number on archive.org.¬†Click on the reel you need, then choose an option under “View this book” in the left column.¬†The “Page Number” given on familysearch.org will be a printed number on each page of the images from archive.org. This number is usually (but not always!) on the top right or bottom right corner of the page.

1820 -Use familysearch.org¬†to find basic information,¬†then open a new window with¬†http://archive.org/details/1820_census¬†and¬†choose your state.¬†The “Affiliate Film Number” given on familysearch.org will be the “Volume Reel” number on archive.org.¬†Click on the reel you need, then choose an option under “View this book” in the left column.¬†The “Page Number” given on familysearch.org will be a hand-written number on each page of the images from archive.org.

1830 – Hallelujah, the year they started using printed forms! As usual, use familysearch.org¬†to find basic information,¬†then open a new window with¬†http://archive.org/details/1830_census¬†and¬†choose your state.¬†The “Affiliate Film Number” given on familysearch.org will be the “Volume Reel” number on archive.org.¬†Click on the reel you need, then choose an option under “View this book” in the left column.¬†The “Page Number” given on familysearch.org will be a number written or printed ¬†in the top right corner of every second page of the images from archive.org.

1840 – Use familysearch.org¬†to find basic information,¬†then open a new window with¬†http://archive.org/details/1840_census¬†and¬†choose your state.¬†The “Affiliate Film Number” given on familysearch.org will be the “Volume Reel” number on archive.org.¬†Click on the reel you need, then choose an option under “View this book” in the left column.¬†The “Page Number” given on familysearch.org will be a number written or printed ¬†in the top right corner of every second page of the images from archive.org.

1850 –¬†You can use familysearch.org to search the name, and you can see the image there without any further looking.

1860 – This one is also a tiny bit more work, but not at all difficult.¬†Use familysearch.org¬†to find basic information. After clicking on the name you want, the box at the right will say “The image is viewable at¬†fold3.com. By clicking here you will be leaving FamilySearch.org. (fees and other terms may apply)” Click on the link to “Visit Partner Site.” You won’t be able to see the image (well, only a very tiny version of it), but in the column at the right you can see the State, the Roll number, and the Page. Open¬†http://archive.org/details/1860_census¬†and¬†choose your state.¬†The “Roll” number given on fold3.com will be the “Volume Reel” number on archive.org.¬†Click on the reel you need, then choose an option under “View this book” in the left column. Now go back to the original record from familysearch.org (hopefully you left the page open!) and look at the “Image Number”. This will be the number of the page you need on¬†archive.org. You can find it easily by pulling the scroll tab at the bottom to the page you need. Here familysearch.org told me I needed “Image Number: 00377”

And sure enough, that was the page with my ancestor. (I’ve only tried this a few times, and so far it always worked. If it doesn’t work for you, let me know in the comments!)

1870 –¬†You can use familysearch.org to search the name, and you can see the image there without any further looking.

1880 – Most of the basic info can be seen at familysearch.org, but I’m still working on a way to see the original images.¬†(see update below)

1890 – Most of these records were destroyed by a fire in 1921, so if you really need to view these records you’d better start working on a time machine.

1900 –¬†You can use familysearch.org to search the name, and you can see the image there without any further looking.

1910 –¬†Most of the basic info can be seen at familysearch.org, but I’m still working on a way to see the original images.¬†(see update below)

1920 –¬†Most of the basic info can be seen at familysearch.org, but I’m still working on a way to see the original images. (see update below)

1930 –¬†Use familysearch.org¬†to find basic information,¬†then open a new window with¬†http://archive.org/details/1930_census¬†and¬†choose your state.¬†On familysearch.org you will see an “Affiliate Publication Number”, the second half of which is a roll number; that¬†is the “Volume Reel” number on archive.org.¬†Click on the reel you need, then choose an option under “View this book” in the left column. The “Image Number” given on familysearch.org corresponds roughly with¬†the number of the image you’ll need on archive.org; I find it easier to get there and then check the¬†“District” and the “Sheet Number and Letter” given on¬†familysearch.org, which correspond with the “Enumeration¬†District no.” and “Sheet no.” in the top right corner of the images.

1940 –¬†You can use familysearch.org to search the name, and you can see the image there without any further looking.

These methods listed above are just what have worked for me. I’ve used all of them to find my ancestors, mostly in MA and PA. The biggest problem has always been that familysearch.org’s search somehow does not always find the people I’m looking for, even when I know exactly where they should be. But once I’ve found a person indexed on familysearch.org, I’ve never had any problem finding the census image from archive.org.¬†If you find another, easier, way, or if something doesn’t work for you, please tell me about it in the comments!

Updated to add: I’ve found a tedious-but-successful way of finding images for the 1880, 1910, and 1920 censuses. Start with a search via familysearch.org. Once you know the state, country, and city you’re looking in, you can use this tool to find the Enumeration District. If you click on “More details,” it will also tell you the roll number you need, so it’s just a matter of looking at the 1880, 1910, or 1920 records on archive.org, clicking on the state, clicking on the appropriate roll (reel), and then paging though to get to the right Enumeration District. Once you’re at the right ED, look back at the familysearch.org record and use either the page number (from the 1880 records) or the household number (from 1910, 1920) to narrow your search. You’ll probably have to look through a couple different EDs, so be sure to bookmark it / save the image when you’ve got it!

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2 Responses to Free census searching and census images

  1. Ed Hamilton says:

    Neat! Never thought of it. I didn’t know archive.org had the images. I use my sister’s Ancestry account, but I’m keeping this article for reference. And for the times when you know the family is there, but the indexes aren’t finding them.

  2. Ed Hamilton says:

    Blank comment, because I forgot to check the boxes for follow up posts.

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