Calendar Features

March & April 2002 Feature

The 1930 Census

Constance Potter
Staff Archivist

On Monday, April 1, 2002, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) releases the 1930 population census in its research rooms across the country. In the National Archives Building in Washington, DC, and NARA's 13 regional facilities, seasoned researchers and first-timers will scroll through the 2,667 rolls of census schedules, searching for that piece of data that can fill in a family history or provide a clue to further investigation.

Census records are primary sources for genealogical research. The U.S. census dates from 1790. Article 1, section 2 of the Constitution requires an enumeration of the people every 10 years for the purposes of representation and direct taxes. The 1790 census simply listed the heads of households and tallied everyone else in the household by age and gender. The census also listed the number of slaves and all other free persons in the household. In 1790 the population was 3,929,214, and the country comprised 867,980 square miles. On average, 4.5 people lived per square mile.

By 1930, the population increased to 122,775,046, the country had expanded to 2,973,776 square miles, and 41.3 people lived per square mile. The schedule also had increased to 32 questions, which reveal more about individuals and the country at large than the earlier census. The Bureau of the Census asked these questions just 5 months after the Wall Street crash on October 29, 1929, and this census tells us about the preceding decade of the 1920s. Following World War I, the country changed political, socially, economically, and technologically.

One item on the 1930 census schedule hints at the arrival of the new technological age: a heading titled simply "radio set." Commercial radio broadcasting had been in its infancy in during the 1920s. By 1930, home radios were a common source of news and entertainment; more than 40 percent of households reported having a radio.

How to Prepare for Using the 1930 Census

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

The catalog is available in published form and, for the first time, online. Neither catalog lists names; they provide a roll-by-roll listing of the microfilm. The online finding aid, called the "1930 Census Microfilm Locator," contains information about the contents of each microfilm roll including descriptions of the enumeration district. Researchers can use this tool to determine which roll or rolls of microfilm contain a specific enumeration district.

The introduction to the catalog explains how to use the records, summarizes the instructions of the census enumerators, and tells how to order microfilm copies of the schedules, Soundex, and related microfilm. The price for the published catalog is $3.50. Ordering information may be found at 1930census.archives.gov.

Soundex

Unlike the 1920 census, the 1930 schedules do not have Soundex indexes for all the states. The more information a researcher brings with him or her, the easier it will be to do the research. To most effectively use the census, it is important for researchers to have as much information as possible about where a person lived in 1930. Only 12 states were indexed, 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.

Other Finding Aids

Because so few Soundex indexes exist, it will be more important than before to find out in which enumeration district the subject of your research lived. There are two ways to look for an enumeration district: using geographic descriptions of census enumeration districts or enumeration district maps.

Descriptions of Census Enumeration Districts, 1830–1950 (National Archives Microfilm Publication T1224, rolls 61–90) reproduces the descriptions of the 120,105 EDs for 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, DP) reproduces the ED maps for the 1930 census on 35mm color microfilm.

The Index to Selected City Streets and Enumeration Districts, 1930 (National Archives Microfilm Publication M1931, 7 rolls, DP) reproduces a 57-volume index to selected city streets and enumeration districts. Among the cities indexed are Los Angeles; San Francisco; the District of Columbia; Chicago; the Bronx, Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens; and Philadelphia.

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 the city directories. The directories are available at the National Archives Building in Washington, DC, and in the regional archives.

Come visit NARA's research rooms after April 1. You will find not only familiar names but also a snapshot of America in the pivotal decade of the 1920s. For additional information on the 1930 census, visit 1930census.archives.gov.

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