Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The U.S. Census rocks!

This probably marks me as a true history geek, but I love the census—both for what I can find out about individuals and for what aggregate data tell us about communities, the state, and the country as a whole.

Below are some good census sites.

Historical census information is available through the University of Virginia Library's historical census browser. It offers access to data describing the people and the economy of the U.S. for each state and county from 1790 to 1960. This is one of my all-time favorite websites.

The New York Times created an interactive map, Immigration Explorer, that shows the density of various foreign-born nationals in different regions of the United States from 1880 to 2000.

The U.S. Census Bureau website provides statistical information on the United States.

The Montana Census and Economic Information Center offers links to current and historic census and economic data. Particularly interesting is the historical population data.  

Ancestry.com is the best-known genealogy site, but it requires a paid subscription. (You might check your local library, genealogical society or LDS church if you are interested in gaining access.) One benefit to ancestry.com is you can browse the census, so you can look at neighborhoods—not just individuals. If you are looking for an individual in the census, try searching https://www.familysearch.org/, which has the advantage of being free. (Family Search also has better access to marriage records than does Ancestry.)

What’s interesting about the census? The census is an important tool for researching families, historic properties, and social history more generally. Here are a few worksheets we created to accompany the textbook, Montana: Stories of the Land, using census data:

Chapter 6: Gold Rush—analyzing population growth

Chapter 15: The Progressive Era—analyzing immigration patterns

Chapter 18: The Great Depression—analyzing population trends

And here’s census data the Society aggregated as a tool to discover more about the history of African Americans in the state (as well as a lesson plan that has students analyzing this data).

Do you ever use the census in your classroom? If so, how and why?

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