The “72 Year Census Rule” is the length of time that personal information on the U.S census forms is kept private.

When completing a census forms, every household typically answers questions that includes personal information that is preferentially private. As a result the United States Government imposed a rule that protects citizens’ right to privacy for 72 years. It will be 2082 before details are opened to the public.

The population counts, however,  for the  states, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia will be released over the next two months, starting this week with New Jersey, Virginia, Louisiana, and  Mississippi.

Information sources inform us that publishing personal information may feel uncomfortable or invasive for some citizens, so  the 72 Year Census Rule provides people with enhanced protection of privacy.

There was such a hullaballoo with the last census that it’s very likely that our descendents will no longer be able to find census information. This post is about now and future family researchers will probably be able to locate information from very different sources.

The good news for family researchers now is that in April 2012, the entire 1940 U.S. Census will become available to the public and includes some very interesting details.

In order to assess the country’s housing situation after the Great Depression, census workers recorded observations about the households they visited including, what the house was made of (wood, brick, stucco, etc.), whether the house had  indoor plumbing, electricity, a radio, and other factors that determine a standard of living.

To access the previously released census data taken from more than 72 years ago, family researchers can use free resources such as:

  • The National Archives library and branches throughout the country
  • The National Archives Census website free search
  • State libraries
  • The National Archives affiliate branches (multiple locations throughout the country)
  • State libraries

While the 1911 census returns for England and Wales were made public a couple of years early, the Scottish legislation remained true to their 100 year rule that exempts personal Census records from disclosure until after a 100-year period.

Those 100 years are finally drawing to a close, and the Registrar General for Scotland officially announced that the 1911 Scottish census records will be released on April 5, 2011.

The 1911 national Scottish census includes details collected from more than 4.7 million Scots, including the name, address, age, occupation, birth place and marital status of everyone enumerated in the 1911 census. The release also marks the first time that census data will be presented in full color, rather than black and white.

The 1911 census will be released on ScotlandsPeople, the Scottish government source for Scottish genealogy research. It works on a credit system (you can buy various amounts of credits) and it’ll cost 1 credit to view an index entry for the 1911 census. If you want to view an  image it will cost 5 credits.

I prefer the Scottish research system to that of England and Wales. Instead of using an index where you need to purchase copies of birth and death certificates without knowing if you have found your actual ancestor (there’s often several people with the same name and time period and you have to purchase all of them to find the right person), you can actually download photocopies of the original from the Scotland’s people web site.

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1 Comment on The U.S. 72-year census rule and the Scottish 100-year census rule

  1. Chris G says:

    Hullabaloo about the last census is a good word for it. Perhaps the government spoiled it for future researchers. I agree that there will be different methods used by genealogists in the future.

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