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Sample infographic of Seatle population

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Using Social Explorer

Let's say that we are looking to find Census data that reflectss how many Vietnamese people settled in the Puget Sound region following the Vietnam War (1959-1975). We would want to start by defining the chronological and geographical scope that we're interested in:

  • If we are interested in the time period from 1975 and the present day, we will want to look at data from the 1980, 1990, 2000, and 2010 censuses.
  • If we're interested in the Puget Sound region, we may want to look at data from King County, the Seattle-Bellevue-Tacoma metro area, or, perhaps, individual cities like Seattle, Everett, or Tacoma.

Now, we're ready to use one of the Census tools linked to above. Since we're interested in historical data dating back before 2000, we'll want to use Social Explorer.

  • Open Social Explorer.
  • Select the Tables option.
  • Select U.S. Decennial Census and then Begin Report for the year of interest.
  • Select a Geographic type and add to your selections. (Remember cities are "places" in the census)
  • Search by Keyword for tables using terms like "asian" or "nativity" and select the relevant tables.
  • Repeat for another Census year.

Remember that it may be helpful to put the Census data that you find into context by comparing the growth of a particular group to the growth of the population as a whole. For example, the Seattle Vietnamese population grew from 2,601 (in 1980) to 13,252 (in 2010) -- a growth rate of over 400%! In comparision, Seattle's population over that same time period only grew by 23%. Nationwide, the Vietnamese population grew from 261,729 (in 1980) to 1,548,449 (in 2010) -- a growth rate of nearly 500%!

Note: if you can't find the historic census data that you're interested in on Social Explorer, you may be able to find the data that you're looking for in our print Census volumes at the Suzzallo Library. Not everything is online! Contact Kian Flynn at for assistance.

Finding Census Data

Citing Census

Social Explorer provides this model for citing using the Chicago format:


Data source. Title of table, dates. Prepared by Social Explorer. permalink URL (date accessed).


U.S. Census Bureau. Population Density, 1960. Prepared by Social Explorer. (accessed Jul 27 13:58:03 EST 2010).


Title of map, dates. Social Explorer, permalink URL (based on data from <identify data source>; date accessed).

Population Density, 1960. Social Explorer, (based on data from U.S. Census Bureau; accessed Jul 27 17:16:03 EST 2010).

Census Data as a Research Resources

The census is a decennial (every 10 year) count of all people and households in the country. Information gathered during the census can include race, income, education level and more for a state, city and down to a census tract level (an area composed of approximately 1200 to 8000 people). 


  •  The census reveals population trends over time. 
  • The census reveals socio-economic and housing information for an area.

Keep in mind

  • The census is a snapshot in time. Information is available for 2010 so changes since then are not reflected in the census data. The annual American Community Survey, which started in 2005, contains many statistics that once appeared in the decennial census.
  • Over time the census gathered different sorts of information so it may not be easy to directly compare census data from decade to decade. For example if you are interested in Filipinos living in the Internation District in 1920 you will not be able to know because the census grouped most Asians under the racial category "other." See recent Washington Post article about racial categories.
  • Actual household information is only available through the 1940 census because of privacy concerns so you cannot see who lived in a specific block in 1960.


Printed copies of the statistical census volumes are housed in the Government Publications Section on the ground floor of Suzzallo Library.


How to use census information

For more information on using census data see: Making Sense of NumbersCensus DataMeasuring America: The Decennial Censuses from 1790 to 2000 & How to Use the Census Bureau's American Community Survey Like a Pro.