Skip to main content

U.S. Census Demographic Data: Manuscript & Microdata

A guide to finding and using population data from the U.S. Census Bureau

Census Manuscript

Manuscript census schedules are the original forms on which census enumerators recorded information on households and residents.  These manuscript schedules are kept confidential for 72 years, after which point the National Archives and Records Administration makes them available to the public. Because these records give precise information on residents, these manuscript census schedules are valuable sources for historical research.

Finding Census Schedules from an Address

Ancestry.com is a useful tool for accessing census schedules.  Unfortunately for researchers of cities, it was designed primarily for genealogists, and therefore is much easier to search by name of resident rather than location of residence. In order to research your neighborhood of interest:

  • Find a range of addresses and intersections representative of your neighborhood of interest (use Google Maps, etc.).
  • Go to Ancestry Library Edition
  • Navigate to US Census Collection, then year of choice.
  • Navigate to your state and county of interest, and note how the city is divided up (wards, enumeration districts, etc.).
  • Use Obtain EDs in One Step to find correct enumeration district and ward by street intersection. For 1880 Philadelphia, you can also consult An urban finding aid for the 1880 federal population census of Philadelphia
  • Go back to Ancestry and find the ward and enumeration district of interest.  You may have to flip through many pages to find your location of interest.

Microdata

Although individual-level census records are kept confidential for 72 years, the Census Bureau does provide access to a sample of anonymized records from the decennial census and the ACS called the Public Use Microdata Sample (PUMS). PUMS allows researchers to make custom tabulations not available in the standard summary files. The main limitation is that PUMS have limited geographic detail; the smallest geographic unit available is the Public Use Microdata Area, or PUMA, designed to contain 100,000 residents.

Census Schedules Tutorial

From an address to a census schedule, step by step.