Understanding the 1930 US Census

by Ruby Coleman

The census is a tool for measuring the population of the United States. For the genealogist it is a tool for locating ancestors in a specific year and place. However, it provides more than names and ages. Particularly on the 1930 US Census, it is helpful to understand the column headings and content of the extractions.

Genealogists can use the 1930 US Census on microfilm which can be obtained or used in several places. It is available through Family History Centers (LDS) or the National Archives, using their rental program. On Internet it can be access with membership in Ancestry.com, http://www.ancestry.com or Genealogy.com, http://www.genealogy.com, or ProQuest's HeritageQuest Online, http://www.heritagequestionline.com.

Regardless of the type of access you use to locate ancestors on the 1930 US Census, it is necessary to look at more than just the names and ages. There are many columns on the census, some of which contain important information. Extracting the information means knowing what questions were asked by enumerators.

Where streets and roads were known, the information was to be placed on the far left hand side of the form, written vertically. Cut off points between the streets or roads were marked with a heavy line between the first and second columns. The second column contains a house number if known or available. The next column is the number of dwelling house in order of visitation. The fourth column is the number of family in order of visitation. Thus your ancestor may end up with three numbers such as 1242 - 141-152. Look sideways to see if a road or street is shown, such as 1242 Linden Grove Road. The "141" is the dwelling house number in order of visitation and the "152" is the family number in the order of the enumerator's visit.

Next appear the name of people in that location. Specific instructions indicated that the enumerator was to list the name of every person whose usual place of abode was there on 1 April 1930. They were to enter the head of the household, wife, children and then all other persons living in the household, relatives and non-relatives. Names were to be written as the person usually wrote his or her name.

Relationships to the head of the family were given. Column 6 was also to be used to indicate which member of the family was the homemaker. Thus you will see "Wife - H" indicating that she was responsible for the care of the home and the family.

Column 7 contains information on whether the family owned or rented their home. It is only shown next to the head of the household. If the home was owned (shown as O) the current market value of the home was to be shown in column eight. If the home was rented (shown as R), the monthly rent was listed in column eight.

The ninth column on the form asked if the family or any member of the family owned a radio set. If so, this was marked as "R." In some cases enumerators wrote in "No" if there was none in the household. Column 10 asked if the family lived on a farm, followed by yes or no. The eleventh column pertains to sex and the twelfth column pertains to race. Ages are shown in column thirteen as the age at their last birthday, with relationship to the date of 1 April 1930. Column 14 pertains to marital condition, followed by Column 15 information pertaining to age at first marriage. Keep in mind that it may not be a first marriage for the husband or wife shown.

Questions were asked pertaining to the attendance of school or college since 1 September 1929. This was reported in Column 16. Information on whether they could read or write was collected for a person 10 years of age or older and reported in Column 17.

Places of birth are shown in Column 18. If a person was uncertain of the state of birth, it was reported as US for United States. For foreign births only the name of the country was to be shown. In some cases, I have seen further information included above the location, such as a specific place in a foreign country. Columns 19 and 20 contain information on the place of birth for their parents. Column 21 asked about the mother tongue or native language for anybody born in a foreign country. Thus someone born in Austria will show German as the mother tongue.

Columns 22 and 23 pertain to citizenship. The year of immigration to the United States is shown. For more than one arrival in the United States, only the first is shown. The question of naturalization applied to all foreign born persons. The terms "Na" were used for naturalized, "Pa" for first papers, "Un" for unknown and "Al" for Alien. Column 24 asked if the person was able to speak English.

Occupations were listed in Column 25. The entry was to be for gainful occupation or "none" for no gainful employment. Women who worked in the home were considered as not being gainfully employed. Column 26 pertains to industry. Thus a person could be a time keeper in a shoe factory. The time keeper would be in Column 25 and shoe factory in Column 26.

The class of worker is shown in Column 27. Employers were written as "E", wage or salary workers as "W" and a person who was working on his or her own account was "O." If a family member was working without pay it was listed as "NP." Column 28 asked if the person was actually at work yesterday with the response being yes or no. For each gainfully employed person who had not worked yesterday received a line number in Column 29. They were reported on a separate Unemployment Schedule and that number cross referenced to Column 29.

Column 30 pertains to veterans. This was to be answered with yes or no. Column 31 followed up with information on the war or expedition, such as Civ for Civil War, WW for World War. If a person or family lived on a farm, a separate schedule was filled out. This number on the farm schedule is cross referenced to column 32 on the main form.

There are many marks on the census and some are difficult to decipher. If a person was not present when the enumerator called they were to mark "AB" after the name of that person on the schedule.

With all this information, reading the 1930 US Census takes time. Compared with the earlier census records, it is extensive and yet missing some of the information on earlier ones, such as number of children and number living. Almost all of the information on the 1930 US Census will be helpful in your research. Don't overlook any of the columns assuming they are not of consequence.

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