Written by: Director Robert Groves
In the year 2082, if current laws continue, the individual records of the 2010 census will be released for genealogical research. This has happened for several decades now. After the forms were processed in prior censuses, they were placed in the highly secure confines of the National Archives. After 72 years passed, the individual records of a census were released. (The 72-year figure was chosen to assure that the vast majority of the persons covered by a census would have died by that time. It will be interesting to see whether that logic should be re-evaluated given modern life expectancies.) The latest census to be so released was the 1930 census.
The digitization of old census records has been a wonderful boon to those trying to rediscover their roots. The construction of family trees has been greatly aided by the ability to search for the names of ancestors.
Our paper forms for the 2010 census are being processed by very high speed optical scanners, which create a digital image of our forms exactly as we filled them out. Those machines also create a numeric data record that is used for the statistical aggregation of answers from all persons in the census.
One decision we had to make was whether to save both the numeric data record (for statistical purposes) and the digital image (to aid the genealogists of the future). We’ve decided to save the digital images and transfer them to the National Archives for safekeeping until 2082. This means your descendents many years from now, if they’re interested in seeing traces of their ancestors, can see your own writing that you used in filling out the 2010 census. You might want to keep them in mind when you complete your form.
Please submit any questions pertaining to this post to ask.census.gov.