Note: Although this guide still contains relevant and useful information, it is no longer being updated and maintained. You may encounter broken links and references to books being in physical locations that have since changed. Please contact You got ideas beyond all acoustic? Data Services with any questions.
Counting the U.S. Population
Every ten years since 1790 the U.S. Bureau of the Census has surveyed the inhabitants of the country, and has produced statistical reports summarizing the findings of those enumerations. Taking a decennial census is mandated by Article 1, Section 2 of the Constitution. The number of persons residing in states is used 1) to apportion the members of the House of Representatives among the states, and 2) frequently to distribute federal grant monies to the states.
Decennial Census Statistics
The NCSU Libraries contains summary statistical reports compiled from each of the U.S. decennial censuses. The majority of the Census Bureau's products are now issued only electronically. Digital products began modestly with some CD-ROM products for the 1980 census. More recently the Census Bureau has scanned some earlier census reports and made them available in .PDF format.
This guide summarizes the NCSU Libraries holdings of decennial population and housing census reports from 1790 to the present. The Libraries' census holdings on these two topics and links to electronic resources are listed for each decennial census:
Finding Data Over Time by Topic
Finding the type of data that you want within Census documents can be tricky. The questions asked in censuses have changed over time, and more recent censuses record data on more topics than did earlier ones. Also the topic you're interested in may not be one that was addressed by a census questionnaire.
The guide pages linked above describe decennial Census resources by summarizing the questions asked and they contain a link to the decade's questionnaire. Also, "Table Finding Guides" are contained in printed volumes that identify the subjects found in specific tables. There is such a finding guide in the 1850 volume, but this aid does not make a reappearance until 1930.
Statistics vs. Schedules
In addition to publishing summary statistics compiled from census returns, the Census Bureau also releases the survey instruments that individuals or census enumerators completed. The census schedules are of great interest to genealogists and family historians. Census schedules are held in confidence for 72 years to protect individuals' private information. The most recently released census schedules are these from the 1940 census that were released in 2012.
The NCSU Libraries does not collect census schedules, however, they may be viewed by NCSU affiliates by using the HeritageQuest Database. They are also available locally in the State Library of North Carolina's Genealogical Search Room. The NC Office of Archives and History's Archives Search Room is another source of genealogical information relating to North Carolinians. Both of these state agencies are a part of the Department of Cultural Resources, and their search rooms are located at 109 East Jones Street, Raleigh.