The U.S. government has been taking a decennial census of its inhabitants since 1790. Individual states conducted censuses before 1790 and several states continued to do so until the early 20th century. A 72-year waiting period is imposed on the public release of federal census records in an effort to protect individual privacy. Thus, 1930 is the most recent census available to researchers.
The Archives holds census records for Wisconsin on microfilm from 1836 (when Wisconsin became a territory) up through a partial 1930 Census, with indexes covering 1836, 1840, 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880 (Soundex), 1900 (Soundex), 1905 (partial index), and 1910. (See also Soundex below.) In addition to population schedules, special censuses were taken to record things like mortality, agriculture, and industry. The Archives holds an 1840 special census listing Revolutionary War pensioners as well as an 1890 special census listing soldiers, sailors, and widows of soldiers of the U.S. Civil War. Incidentally, this census listing Civil War soldiers was one of the few items in the 1890 census that was not destroyed by a fire in the Commerce Building in Washington, D.C., in 1921.
Free digital copies of census records for Wisconsin and other states can be found on and . In addition, the Chalmer Davee Library has subscriptions to Ancestry LibraryEdition and to HeritageQuest, both of which have digital images of and indexes to the federal census for the entire United States. Ancestry also has the Wisconsin state census for 1895 and 1905.