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Census Information on the Web

describes the major online services and collections of the Census Bureau and related institutions

Recent Census data: quick links

More about American FactFinder

newWe have developed a step-by-step guide to finding Census Tract data on American FactFinder new

American FactFinder (AFF) is's primary vehicle for disseminating Census data. It allows searching and browsing for all kinds of information on geographic areas from the smallest units (blocks) to the largest (the nation). AFF contains information from the most recent and second-most-recent decennial Censuses, plus recent data from the American Community Survey, the Economic Census, and other surveys.

Here's what the AFF main page looks like:


Comm. Facts

  • For fast facts about a state, county, city, town, or zip code, just type the location into the box under Community Facts. You'll be given a set of popular numbers, with links to their sources, plus links to tables with more data (see box on the right)


The remainder of the options are for more complicated searches:

  • The Guided Search is just what it sounds like, and is the best place for most searchers to begin (especially Census novices, but also experts, since it gives you the option of selecting specific datasets or tables). The boxes outlined in red below show the steps through with the Guided Search takes you:

Guided Search

  • The Advanced Search is designed for experienced Census users and assumes more detailed knowledge of Census table organization and terminology. We recommend that AFF newbies avoid it for this reason. The Guided interface is much more user friendly!
  • Download options offer information for expert users who want to download large amounts of data. There are resources on AFF downloading (including a tutorial) plus information on what to do if you need more data than AFF allows you to download. (More on AFF limitations in the box above on the right)

A librarian at Western Illinois University offers this more detailed LibGuide covering AFF. Here is her step-by-step guide to the Guided Search. She also has extensive information about the Advanced Search option as well as various mapping options.

American FactFinder guides

NOTE: the following guides refer to older versions of the system; some features may have changed:

American Factfinder limitations

checkThe AFF folks at the Census Bureau want users to find the data they need, and they provide some great tools for doing this. Their Help link at the top of all their pages offers step-by-step instructions, and they also provide a glossary and FAQ.

However, the system has some limitations that might be of importance to some users:

  • Browser issues. Some features don't work so well in Chrome, although they have fixed some of these problems.
  • Dates. Users needing data from Censuses earlier than 2000 are out of luck. See the Historical tab in this guide for sources of older Census data. In particular, look at the box explaining about the Census Bureau's FTP File Repository. That's the mother lode of historical data.
  • Data limits (for downloading). See AFF's FAQ on the limits for downloading data from their tables. If the data exists, you can get as much as you want; just not through AFF in quantities over these limits.

If you have other concerns about the data in AFF or problems with using the system, contact them through the Feedback link at the top of every page. As we see through their much improved interface, they do take users' suggestions seriously!

More about the American Community Survey

The American Community Survey (ACS) is an ongoing data gathering project of that provides information for communities and states in between the decennial Censuses. Its data can be searched through American FactFinder (see box above) or downloaded from the ACS site. The Survey provides data on topics that are no longer covered by the decennial Census, such as economic status, education, disability status, housing expenses, etc.

Here are some primary tools and portals within the ACS system:

The Survey does not cover the whole country. Over 6000 communities are represented by their annual reports, and that number is nearly doubled for the data taken every 3 years. The number of places jumps up to over 670,000 for the 5-year data, and these statistics include data for smaller areas such as tracts and block groups. [NOTE: beginning with FY 2016 (October, 2015) the 3-year estimates will no longer be reported.]

Here is a screen shot of part of ACS' main page, with the important Guidance for Data Users tab expanded and highlighted. Check out their Tutorial for more information on using this data.

American Community Survey

In particular, knowing when to use 1-, 3-, or 5-year estimates is a particularly important, but potentially confusing, question. Here is a handy guide that can help answer it. More detail about the survey, especially emphasizing the differences among its types of estimates, can be found in this American Library Association paper: "Librarian's Guide on How to Use the American Community Survey Multiyear Estimates."

Note that not every single bit of ACS data can be accessed from the main ACS page. For a complete collection of data, you must use the Census Bureau's FTP site. Ask a Librarian for assistance if you have trouble finding the data you need.

Finding basic local information

Population Estimates

checkThe Census Bureau has an entire division whose job is make estimates so that researchers and policy-makers can know how the population is changing in between the decennial censuses. Many of these estimates find their way into American FactFinder. But you might want to check out their main estimates portal, by following the link below. In addition to data, they provide extensive information on methodologies used to arrive at the estimates.

2010 & 2000 Census surveys

This research project at Brown University provides research reports based on Census, ACS, and other data sources that study changes in American society in the recent past.

Here are links to the main site and to some important services they provide: