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Finding and Using GIS Data

The AGS Library's Guide to Finding GIS data and working with it for your specific project needs

How to Use TIGER Products

How to use TIGER Products:

TIGER Products provides comprehensive United States shapefiles with feature class information beginning in 2007. This data comes directly from the United States census.

Demographic Data
No demographic information is available via TIGER Products. For demographic data or older boundary shapefiles, the AGSL recommends using the National Historical Geographic Information System (NHGIS). Demographic data can also be found at American Fact Finder, another product made available by the Census Bureau. The "Other Census Resources" section of this libguide details the major differences between these census resources, and points to additional census-related sites. 

Historical Boundaries
Files older than 2007 are available via TIGER Products, but are available in an early TIGER/Line format that generally does not work well with shapefile conversion software. For shapefiles depicting older historic boundaries, visit NHGIS. 

What shapefiles are available from TIGER Products?

  • 5-digit ZIP Code
  • Tabulation Areas
  • Alaska Native Regional Corporations
  • American Indian/Alaska Native/Native Hawaiian Areas
  • American Indian Area Tribal Subdivisions
  • Blocks
  • Block Groups
  • Census Tracts
  • Combined New England City and Town Areas
  • Congressional Districts
  • Consolidated Cities
  • Counties and equivalents
  • County Subdivisions
  • Landmarks (Point and Area)
  • Metropolitan/Micropolitan Statistical Areas
  • Metropolitan Divisions
  • Military Installations
  • New England City and Town Areas
  • New England City and Town Area Divisions
  • Places
  • Public Use Microdata Areas
  • Roads, Rails, Rivers, etc.
  • School Districts – Elementary, Secondary, and Unified
  • State and State Equivalents
  • State Legislative Districts – Upper and Lower
  • Tribal Block Groups
  • Tribal Census Tracts
  • Urban Areas
  • Voting Districts
  • And Many More

It is important to use boundaries from the year that matches your statistical data. This way, the correct boundaries from the time period match the information you are using. 

Rules of thumb suggested by TIGER:

  • "For 2010 Census data, always use 2010 TIGER products.
  • For Census 2000 data, always use 2000 TIGER products.
  • For American Community Survey data, use the TIGER products for the last year in the range for the ACS estimates. For example, if using ACS 2007-11 estimates, use 2011 TIGER products.
  • If you are interested only in features, such as roads, railroads and rivers, use the most recent vintage available."


There are four methods of downloading TIGER/Products:

  1. Website Interface
  2. Direct from FTP site
  3. Connect via FTP client
  4. Direct from


Option 1). If you do not have much technical knowledge, or are only downloading a few shapefiles, download directly from the website interface:

1). From the main TIGER Products page, select “TIGER/Line Shapefiles – New 2016 Shapefiles”

2). After deciding which year's shapefiles to work with, expand the "Download" option within that year's tab. Here, there should be a link to the website interface.

To access the interface directly, follow this link:

3). Use the drop-down menu to select which shapefile and year you want. Directly download and unzip.

This method is the best when only a few shapefiles are required. For quicker access to larger quantities of data, consider options 2 or 3.


Option 2). Direct from the FTP website via a web browser.

Step 1). Go to the FTP Website. It should look like this:

2). It is possible to access these directories in a Windows Explorer setting by copy/pasting the URL directly into your explorer window. This allows dragging and copying of large quantities of files at one time.

TIP: It may be helpful to look at the Shapefile Name Definitions PDF, to make sense of the sometimes confusing file-naming conventions. 

TIP: Wisconsin's State FIPS code is 55. 


Option 3). Connect via FTP client

There are many free FTP clients available. One popular choice is Filezilla.

1). Download and Install Filezilla or a similar client.

2).Enter host name:
Enter password: anonymous

3). Under “remote site” will appear all TIGER offerings. Drag any number of these to the folder you are working in on your computer. Many files can be moved at one time. 

4). Open these files by adding a connection to that folder in ArcMap. 


Option 4). Download from

TIGER shape/line files are available on the website.

1). Visit

2). Select "Data" from the menu. 

3). Under "Dataset Type," select "geospatial."

4). Use the other faceted search categories to narrow down your data. Options are topics, tags, formats, organizations, etc. 

The information for this guide was found from TIGER Products' documentation: Downloading TIGER/Line Shapefiles

Useful resources: 

Other Census Resources

NHGIS - Download aggregate U.S. census data including demographics, and GIS-compatible boundary shapefiles from the years 1790 to 2014. Libguide on how to use this resource available here

American Community Survey - Find data collected from on-going U.S. Census Bureau surveys. ACS is published more frequently than the decennial census, and has a higher level of detail. However, it represents a smaller sample of the total U.S. population. 

US2010 - Use open-source tools to create estimates within 2010 tract boundaries for any tract-level data (from the census or other sources) that are available for prior years as early as 1970.

TIGERwebVisualize your TIGER Products with the Census Bureau's interactive data visualization map service. 

TIGER Products Downloads - Download TIGER Products directly from the web. 

The Contents of Finding and Using GIS Data may be reused with attribution for Non-Commercial purposes.

Finding and Using GIS Data by Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License