The purpose of this guide is to help users locate U.S. census data through Bowdoin College Library. In addition, the "International" tab provides information about how to find census data for censuses conducted by other countries. For U.S. census schedules containing lists of names of individuals and businesses, please use Census Schedules (including names). For other statistics, please consult our other statistics guides.
The U.S. Census originated with the mandate that “Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers” in Article 1, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution. This count for determining each state's number of Representatives to the U.S. House is done every ten years. Today, data from this decennial census count is also used for planning, policy, and funding allocation by all levels of government, businesses, non-profit organizations and researchers.
The decennial censuses have collected other characteristics of the population in addition to numbers: occupation, income level, race, local government finances, agriculture and business statistics, among others. These two centuries of numbers provide rich data for historians, sociologists, economists and other researchers. With the advent of electronically delivered information, access to census data has increased dramatically, as have methods for manipulating data and gaining insights from it.
The original lists of names, called “schedules,” are made publicly available 72 years following the census in which they were gathered. Those lists are published separately from census data. They are usually in microfilm or online. If you are looking for the schedules, please use our guide Census Schedules (including names).
Research questions about census data can be directed to the librarians at Bowdoin Library Reference Desk. Please ask us!
For additional background...
Census from The Reader's Companion to American History.(Bowdoin login)
Census from The American Economy: A Historical Encyclopedia. (Bowdoin login)
The American census handbook / Main Ref HA37.U55 .K4 2001
Congressional Quarterly's encyclopedia of the U.S. census / Main Ref HA37.U55 C66 2000
Measuring America : the decennial censuses from 1790 to 2000 (print) (Contains census forms and information about instructions to enumerators.) / Govt Ref C 3.2:M 46/2 (online)
Population information in nineteenth century census volumes / Main Ref Z7164.D3 S44 1983
Population information in twentieth century census volumes, 1900-1940 / Main Ref Z7164.D3 S45 1985
Population information in twentieth century census volumes, 1950-1980 / Main Ref Z7164.D3 S46 1988
The who, what, and where of America : understanding the census results (print) / Main Ref HA201.122 .W46 2003 (online)