Prologue: Selected Articles
Spring 2002, Vol. 34, No. 1
Preparing for the 1930 Federal Population Census
By Constance Potter
|Heading from the 1930 population census schedule. (NARA, Records of the Bureau of the Census)|
On April 1, 2002, National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) research rooms across the country were filled with people eager to look at the 1930 population census.1 In the National Archives Building in Washington, D.C., and NARA's thirteen regional facilities,2 seasoned researchers and first-timers scrolled through the 2,667 rolls of the forms that the census enumerators completed as they took the census. Called census schedules, these forms help researchers find clues that can fill in a family history or provide new data for further research.
The U.S. census dates from the founding of our nation, when the Constitution required an enumeration of the people every ten years to determine apportionment of representatives. Although created for administrative purposes, census records have become a basis for genealogical research.
The first census in 1790 was a simple enumeration, listing the heads of households and tallying all other members of the household. Later censuses provide names of family members, ages, state or county of birth, occupation, and other useful information. By 1930, the schedule had expanded to thirty-two questions.
The 1930 census describes the country on April 1, 1930. Just five months after the Wall Street crash on October 29, 1929, the census shows the country at the end of 1920s rather than in the middle of the depression of the 1930s.
The 1920s was an era of economic, political, social, and technological changes. One question on the census reflects this interest in technology: a heading titled simply "Radio set." Commercial radio broadcasting had been in its infancy in 1920. By 1930, home radios were becoming a common source of news and entertainment. In April 1930, approximately 40 percent of households had at least one radio.
How to Prepare for Using the 1930 Census
The more information a researcher brings with him or her, the easier it will be to search the census. To most effectively use the census, it is important for researchers to know as much as possible about where a person lived in 1930. As with the 1880 through 1920 censuses, the 1930 census is arranged by census year, state, county, city or township, and enumeration district (ED).
1930 Federal Population Census Catalogs
Information about the 1930 census is available in a published catalog and online. Neither version lists names; they both provide a roll-by-roll list of the microfilm. The online catalog, called the "1930 Census Microfilm Locator," contains information about the contents of each microfilm roll, including ED descriptions. Researchers can use a searchable database to determine which roll or rolls of microfilm contain schedules for specific EDs. This locator is available at http://www.archives.gov/research/census/1930/
In the printed catalog, the list of the rolls containing population census schedules are arranged by state, county, and enumeration district. The available Soundex indexes are listed alphabetically by state. The introduction explains how to use the records, summarizes the instructions to the census enumerators, and tells how to order microfilm copies of the schedules, Soundex, and related microfilm.
Microfilmed Findings Aids
Unlike the 1920 census, the 1930 schedules do not have Soundex indexes for all the states. Only twelve southern states were Soundexed, and two of those state indexes are partial. Indexes using the Soundex system exist for Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and a few counties in Kentucky and West Virginia.3
Because so few Soundex indexes exist, it will be more important than ever to find out in which enumeration district the subject of your research lived. There are several ways to identify an enumeration district:
- Descriptions of Census Enumeration Districts, 1830 - 1950 (National Archives Microfilm Publication T1224, rolls 61 - 90) reproduces the descriptions of the 120,105 distinct enumeration districts of the 1930 census. They are arranged by state, by county, and finally by minor civil division (such as cities, towns, villages, precincts, and townships).
- Enumeration District Maps for the Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930 (National Archives Microfilm Publication M1930, 36 rolls, DP4) reproduces the ED maps for the 1930 census on 35mm color microfilm. The records are arranged by state, county, and thereunder by minor civil divisions.
- The Index to Selected City Streets and Enumeration Districts (National Archives Microfilm Publication M1931, 7 rolls, DP) reproduces a fifty-seven-volume index to selected city streets and enumeration districts. The records are arranged by state and thereunder by city.
- NARA has also purchased microfilmed copies of many city directories for 1929 to 1930 to help researchers locate residences. For a complete list of the cities, see 1930 City Directories Available at NARA. The directories are available at the National Archives Building in Washington, D.C., and in the regional archives.
Availability and Access
View digitized census records online through one of our partners, Ancestry.com or FamilySearch.org. ( Familysearch.org is free of charge. Ancestry.com is available free of charge at National Archives facilities nationwide and through many libraries; otherwise by subscription.) *
Microfilmed copies of the census schedules and Soundex indexes are available at National Archives research rooms and are also for sale.
Census microfilm and the 1930 Federal Population Census catalog may be purchased from NARA. Black-and-white microfilm sells for $34 a roll ($39 to foreign addresses), and color microfilm (Enumeration District Maps, M1930) sells for $51 a roll ($56 to foreign addresses). The catalog sells for $3.50. Credit card orders are accepted at 1-866-272-6272. Orders may also be mailed:
See also this related information: Questions Asked on the 1930 Census
1. For privacy reasons, census records are closed for seventy-two years.
3. The Work Projects Administration prepared the Soundex indexes in the 1940s, but the project stopped when the WPA was disbanded with the beginning of World War II. NARA will not be indexing the remaining states.
4. DPs (descriptive pamphlets) give a brief administrative history of the records and a roll list of the contents of the microfilm publications. They are available at no charge by calling 1-866-325-7208
Constance Potter, an archivist at the National Archives and Records Administration, specializes in federal records of genealogical interest. She has helped prepare for the opening of the 1930 census.
* Updated 5/3/2017 with information about online access to census schedules.
|Articles published in Prologue do not necessarily represent the views of NARA or of any other agency of the United States Government.|