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"Abram" Lincoln was a lawyer in Springfield, Illinois, at the time of the 1850 census.

(March 2) -- So why are U.S. Census records only available up to 1940? The “72-Year” rule is the reason.

According to federal law, personal information about an individual is not publicly accessible for 72 years from the time it is collected during the decennial census. Information within that time frame can only be released to the named individual or a legal heir.

Thus, the most recent census data we can examine is from 1940. But we won’t have to wait long to start exploring the next collection: records from the 1950 U.S. census will be released publicly April 1, 2022. Although they won’t be generally searchable for several months, you can look by location.

To learn how to request recent data for yourself or your family, visit census.gov. While you’re at the site, check out the “Famous and Infamous Census Records” page. This fascinating collection includes hundreds of downloadable reprints of the actual census pages for a range of notable, and some notorious, Americans. You’ll find everyone from the poet Maya Angelou to Native Americans like Sitting Bull to U.S. presidents and sports stars and even Elvis (and don’t miss Lizzie Borden and John Wilkes Booth!).

There’s even a Kokomo native: the diminutive child circus performer Nellie Keeler. She is listed with her parents in the 1900 census at Versailles, Indiana. Keeler died there of tuberculosis three years later at age 28.