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Guide to using the United States census products to find historical, genealogical, geographical, and statistical information.
Last Updated: Feb 18, 2014 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

Introduction Print Page


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About the U.S. Census

The United States Constitution requires a census to be taken every ten years so that the seats in the House of Representatives can be reapportioned to the states in a fair manner. Census data are also used to apportion government funding for various social and economic programs.

Statutes governing the census are contained in Title 13 of the U.S. Code.

The U.S. Census Bureau is the major federal agency responsible for collecting, maintaining, and publishing census data.

In addition to providing a head count of the total U.S. population, the decennial census gathers data on social, demographic, and economic characteristics, including age, sex, race, household relationships, and home ownership.

To supplement the decennial statistics, which become outdated almost as soon as they are published, an American Community Survey, taken from a small sample of the population, provides annual profiles of the U.S. population.

The easiest way to access most of the population, housing, economic, and geographic data collected by the various programs of the Census Bureau is through the American FactFinder. In American FactFinder you can obtain data in the form of maps, tables, and reports from a variety of Census Bureau sources.

Guides to the Census

The Census Bureau Newsroom provides many informative press releases, articles, data, and other resources useful to journalists and researchers.

Steve Beleu of the Oklahoma Department of Libraries has prepared some helpful guides to using the Census:

  • Choosing Census Data
    Provides tips on what types of data are available from the Census, and how they differ from each other.
  • Mixing Census Data Types Together
    Discusses how Census data users can mix data sets and different types of data together in the best possible manner.
  • Using American Community Survey Data
    Gives users the basic information they need to get the most out of the American Community Survey (ACS) data available on the Census Bureau Web site.

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