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GIS Data Sources: US Census

Census Data

Please see our Census guide for many options on obtaining demographic and socioeconomic data from Census surveys. Currently, only a "limited set of TIGER/Line Shapefiles are available pre-joined with demographic data in geodatabase and shapefile format."


These all use unprojected latitude/longitude coordinates (geographic coordinate system or GCS), decimal degrees, 1983 North American Datum  (NAD83) (except ESRI Data & Maps non-USA layers--see metadata -- and where otherwise indicated).

See also our information on Projections in ArcGIS.

Census GIS Layers

Census Bureau

  • TIGER/Line Shapefiles: Detailed GIS layers for 2007+ for either the United States, a state, or a county.
    • Includes Census Blocks.
    • The All Lines layer for each county contains streets, railroads, and hydrography.
  • TIGER/Line Geodatabases: National and statewide files in the Esri File Geodatase format for selected features, since 2013.
  • Cartographic Boundary Files: Less detailed GIS layers for the U.S. covering a single state at a time, or the entire country for some geographies, for 1990, 2000, and 2010. NOTE: These have a significant advantage for small-scale mapping in that they show coastlines. For instance, the barrier islands of NC show up, and Great Lakes states' borders look correct rather than extending to the national boundaries in the middle of the Great Lakes.
    • 2010 layers include projection information (.prj file).
    • 1990 and 2000 layers do not include a projection file. They use unprojected latitude/longitude coordinates (geographic coordinate system or GCS), decimal degrees, 1983 North American Datum  (NAD83).  Use the ArcGIS Define Projection tool. More information on projections.

ESRI Data & Maps

  • Use the TIGER Filename Conventions Key to remember which file represents which layer.
  • GIS layers covering entire United States (i.e., each layer covers the entire nation).
  • 2010, 2000, adn 1990 layers available
  • High resolution, comparable to the TIGER/Line Shapefiles, but if you just want to work with a small area you need to select or clip it from the gigantic USA files.
  • The attribute tables of some layers already contain many demographic data from the 100% "short form" (race, age, sex).
  • Available for download only to members of the Duke community (NetID required)

IPUMS NHGIS (National Historical GIS)

  • State and county boundaries back to 1790
  • Tracts (where available) back to 1910
  • Blocks for 2000 and 2010
  • Also get census data (as separate files, that will need to be joined with the geographic files)

Neighborhood Change Database

  • Tract-level data only, within various geographies of your choice (county, state, metro area, etc.), from 1970-2000.
  • Includes both the short form (100%, or SF1) demographic data and the long form (~15% sample, or SF3) socioeconomic data.
  • Census tracts have been normalized to 2000 boundaries, for ease of comparisons across time.
  • Internet Explorer only!
  • Can download just the tabular data or the tract boundary layers (shapefiles) with census attributes included.
  • Variables sometimes are identical to the source variables from the Census Bureau, and sometimes are derived to obtain sums or proportions.  Carefully study the documentation (Appendices of User Guide) to determine variable provenance, especially:

Geolytics CD-ROMs

  • From the same company that created the Neighborhood Change Database.
  • Please ask our GIS/Data Services staff for help. There are a variety of CD products covering 1970-2000 Censuses, at varying geographies.