The 72 Year Census Rule
American citizens are legally permitted to search and review all public documents obtained from census records. While access to census records can provide individuals with a great deal of beneficial information, the government still insists upon protecting each citizen's rights to privacy. As a result, the United States Government enforces a “72 Year Census Rule.” With this mandate, individuals' private records and personal data can remain confidential for an established span of time.
What is the 72 Year Census Rule?
When filling out a census form, citizens are required to post personal data and information; oftentimes, for some individuals, this information is preferentially private. In order to maintain accurate information and data regarding the population of America's citizens, the federal government prevents citizens from searching personal information pertaining to census records until 72 years have passed.
Non-private information can be accessed once all the data is compiled. For example, any citizen can investigate the statistics and records of a general city or county without any restrictions; however, specific records pertaining to an individual citizen remains sealed from the public until a span of 72 years has passed.
What Individual Information Can I Access?
With the 72 Year Census Rule, the most recent information pertaining to individual citizens available for public search and evaluation is from the 1930 census. Subsequently, the personal information from the 1940 census cannot be accessed by the general public until 2012. Businesses, however, fall under a specification to this mandate. Census data on businesses can be accessed after 30 years.
Objectives of the 72 Year Census Rule
Since stating personal information may feel uncomfortable or invasive for some citizens, the 72 Year Census Rule provides people with enhanced protection of privacy. Not only does this allow individuals to possess discretion upon providing their personal information, but it furthermore encourages more honest and truthful responses. Since the average life span of a citizen is approximately 70 to 85 years, the 72 year privacy protection assures individuals that their data will not be readily accessible to friends, family members, or other individuals during their lifetime.
Accumulating Records for Public Access
Since the records from 1940 will be open for public access in 2012, the National Archives is charged with transferring the information and data into publically available formats. Specifically, the data is transferred onto microfilm (as well as into electronic documents and archives). Since the volume of census data is so immense, it typically takes the National Archives officials nearly two years completing the transfers before the information can be viewed by the public.
How Can I Access Census Records?
To access the previously released census data taken from more than 72 years ago, individuals can utilize resources such as:
- The National Archives library
- The National Archives affiliate branches (multiple locations throughout the country)
- State libraries
- The National Archives / Census website (provides citizens with completely free search options)
- Private genealogical websites (these websites often charge individuals with a fee for their search)