You can research census records online through familysearch.com website for free. Find "catalog" in the menu. Put the state in the search box. Afterwards look at the menu on the right, look for census records in the menu and select the year you want. Once selected you will select the county your ancestors lived in. There is often a little magnifying glass on the right, select that and type in your ancestors name. It will show you all the people in that county with that name. When you find the correct person select him and the document should be there.
they won't let me even create an account
You can access the FamilySearch Help Center without being logged in (I just logged out of my own account to test this).
See https://www.familysearch.org/help/helpcenter/article/how-do-i-create-a-free-familysearch-account for instructions on how to make an account. If you are having difficulties, try chatting with a volunteer using the link in the support article: https://www.familysearch.org/help/helpcenter/article/contact-familysearch-support
The only restrictions I know of are the age limits. The article says: "You must be at least 13 years old to create an account. Children ages 8 to 12 can create an account with parental permission."
If you can't use FamilySearch, another free option is to browse (not search) the microfilm rolls at the Internet Archive (archive.org). This is far from "the easiest way to search" as the original questioner asked, but if the computer index is defective, browsing can be the only way to find someone, so it is a useful skill to learn.
The tools at Stephen P. Morse's One-Step Web Pages can be a great help for searching and browsing. https://stevemorse.org/#us
I like to use the FamilySearch.com site, since it's free. You can Google "Federal Census 1920" (or whatever) and one of the first results will be Family Search. Select that and you'll come to a search form to enter names and details. Good luck!
The 1950 US Census will soon be released to the public and will be transcribed and indexed faster than you can say jackrabbit. Previous US Census have been transcribed and indexed and you can do individual surname lookups at my favorites. Familysearch.org has them along with a whole bunch of vital records, worldwide. If you have money coming out of your pockets, you can subscribe to fee based on-line sites. But if you're cheap like me, head over to your local library and see if they provide access to the library editions of Ancestry.com and MyHeritage.com.
Keep an open mind that in spite of the best efforts, some people and families were missed. My Mom and Uncle Reese and some other family members aren't in the 1920 US Census. I believe there were quite a few as the Spanish influenza was keeping people distant.
But, say you can't find a maiden name for a family member? Whether city or country, a look-see for neighbors of similar age of your missing maiden names in an earlier census. If you see in the 1940 census your married male and no surname for the wife, look in the 1930 census or before if the marriage occured even earlier. And look around the block or the next farm or two over and see if one of the daughters with the same given name is there or missing from the even earlier census.
Every US Census enumeration district (ED) and supervisor district (SD) and maps changed over the years and familysearch has assembled them, but you have to associate a spot on one map to one ten or twenty years distant in time. Enough time for towns to change names or disappear.
Familysearch and Ancestry also include spelling variations, but don't rule out a search handing you nothing, learn the use of question marks (?) and asterisks (*), that would be another good question for the experts. I am not.
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Dear Ms. Pruitt,
Thank you for posting your request on History Hub!
We suggest that you review the National Archives Census Records web page that provides an overview on information contained within census records; links to resources for researching a specific federal census; and census-focused research tips found in Clues in Census Records, 1790-1840 and Clues in Census Records, 1850-1940. Also, please review the History Hub blog titled 20 Tips for Census Research Success that features helpful hints for conducting census research.
To make it easier for you, we searched the National Archives Catalog and located the Population Schedules for the 1790 Census, the Population Schedules for the 1800 Census, the Population Schedules for the 1810 Census, the Population Schedules for the 1820 Census, the Population Schedules for the 1830 Census, the Population Schedules for the 1840 Census the Population Schedules for the 1850 Census, the Population Schedules for the 1860 Census, the Population Schedules for the 1870 Census, the Population Schedules for the 1880 Census, the Population Schedules for the 1890 Census; the Population Schedules for the 1900 Census, and the Population Schedules for the 1910 Census, the Population Schedules for the 1920 Census, the Population Schedules for the 1930 Census, and the Population Schedules for the 1940 Census in the Records of the Bureau of the Census (Record Group 29) that may contain information about particular family members in the state(s) they lived. The 1940 Census schedules are digitized and available using the Catalog. For more information about the non-digitized schedules, please contact the National Archives at Washington, DC - Textual Reference (RDT1) via email at email@example.com.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and pursuant to guidance received from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), NARA has adjusted its normal operations to balance the need of completing its mission-critical work while also adhering to the recommended social distancing for the safety of NARA staff. As a result of this re-prioritization of activities, you may experience a delay in receiving an initial acknowledgement as well as a substantive response to your reference request from RDT1. We apologize for this inconvenience and appreciate your understanding and patience.
For information about the U.S. Census, see the Census Bureau technical documentation and questionnaires as well as NARA’s page on Census Records.
You may wish to search Ancestry or FamilySearch for the U.S. Census. There may be a fee for using Ancestry. Instead, please check for access at your local library as many library systems subscribe to these sites, making them free for their patrons.
We hope this is helpful. Best of luck with your census research!