The 1930 Census contains records for approximately 123 million Americans. The census gives us a glimpse into the lives of Americans in 1930, and contains information about a household’s family members and occupants including: birthplaces, occupations, immigration, citizenship, and military service.
The census can be a valuable tool to use when researching your twentieth-century ancestors because it contains records for approximately 123 million Americans. If you had family in the United States during the early twentieth century, you are likely to find at least one relative’s information within these census records. This makes the 1930 census a good place to start research if you are a beginner, or if your family, vital, or religious records are missing.
The 1930 census began on 2 April 1930 for the general population of the United States. (The enumeration in Alaska began on 1 October 1929.) Regardless of when an individual was contacted, all responses were to reflect the status of the individual as of 1 April 1930.
Enumerators (census takers) collected the following information for each household:
- Address (name of the street, avenue, or road; house number)
- Occupant (name of each person and their relationship to head of family)
- Residence (whether home is owned or rented; value of home; whether home is farm residence; whether home has a radio)
- Personal (sex, race, age, marital status, college attendance, ability to read and write, birthplace, and birthplace of parents)
- Citizenship (language spoken before coming to the United States; year of immigration; whether naturalized or alien; ability to speak English)
- Occupation (trade or profession; industry or business working in; class of worker; whether worked the previous day; line number of unemployment schedule)
- Military (whether veteran or not; war or expedition participated in)
Note: Individuals in Alaska, and Indians were asked slightly different questions. For example, Indians were not asked about their mother’s country of origin, but which tribe she belonged to.
Using the microfilm from the 1930 census, Ancestry.com created images of all the available census records. In addition, Ancestry.com indexed all the names in the census so they are searchable online.
- Servicemen were not recorded with their families in the 1930 census; they were treated as residents of their duty posts. If you’re looking for someone in the military, you should not assume they will be listed in their home town.
- Children that were born between the official start date of the census and the actual day of enumeration were not included. Individuals that were alive on the official start date of the census but deceased by the actual day of enumeration were included.
- Indians were included in the enumeration of the general population, though they were asked different questions than the general population.
- The census contains great information, but some data may not be completely accurate. For example, individuals may not have known the answers to certain questions; the census taker may have asked a neighbor for information if the family could not be contacted; and people did not always give truthful information.
- Family members may not be included in the index because of errors or omissions, but may appear in the actual census records. If you can’t find the individual you’re looking for, don’t give up. By searching through states, cities, and towns, you may be able to find record of the individual in the actual records.
- If you encounter illegible writing, you may want to study the handwriting of the enumerator who recorded the census form you’re looking at. You can do this by picking out the most legible letters and words and working from there. For example, the enumerator listing Abraham Lincoln in the 1860 census (Illinois) wrote the letter "L" in a way that resembles an "S". Without looking at other words on the page, one might think that he was a "Sawyer" instead of a "Lawyer."
- When searching, you might want to choose the "Soundex" spelling option instead of using exact matching. (Soundex lets you search based on the phonetic spellings of names.) Searching phonetically can be useful because census takers may have made spelling errors, or created "Americanized" versions of foreign names.
- This is the last census in which individuals were asked whether they could read or write.
- Unlike previous censuses, this census did not ask individuals for their year of naturalization.
- This is the first census in which individuals were asked: the value of their home, or the amount of rent paid each month; their age at the time of their first marriage; the specific war a man had fought in.
- The 1930 census is the only census to ask whether the occupants of the home owned a radio.
- Based on the census, the average number of people in a household was 4.1.
- In 1930, the average life expectancy for an American was 59.7 years.
- The leading country for people of foreign birth was Italy (1.8 million).
- Ancestry.com used microfilm from the National Archives Records Administration (NARA) to create its digitized images of the census.
What do the abbreviations in the 1930 census schedules mean?
Those recording census information in the year 1930 were provided sheets by the government on which information was to be recorded. At the bottom of these pages were found a set of instructions, abbreviations to be used, and which entries were required to be recorded. The following is a list of abbreviations that were to be used in their respective columns. (The information provided is transcribed directly from the census schedules.)
Abbreviations were to be used in the columns as shown:
- Cols. 18, 19, 20, and 21—Use no abbreviations for state or country of birth or for mother tongue
- Col. 6—Indicate the home-maker in each family by the letter "H" following the word which shows the relationship as "Wife - H"
- Col. 7—Owned = O, Rented = R
- Col. 9—Radio Set = R. Make no entry for families having no radio set.
- Col. 11—Male = M, Female = F
- Col. 12—White = W, Negro = Neg., Mexican = Mex., Indian = In., Chinese = Ch., Japanese = Jp., Filipina = Fil., Hindu = Hin., Korean = Kor., Other races spell out in full
- Col. 14—Single = S, Married = M, Widowed = Wd, Divorced = D
- Col. 23—Naturalized = Na, First Papers = Pa, Alien = Al
- Col. 27—Employer = E, Wage or Salary Worker = W, Working on own account = O, Unpaid worker, member of the family = NP
- Col. 31—World War = WW, Spanish-American War = Sp, Civil War = Civ, Philippine Insurrection = Phil, Boxer Rebellion = Box, Mexican Expedition = Mex
Which columns were enumerators required to complete in the 1930 census schedules?
Entries were required in the following columns:
- Cols. 6, 11, 12, 13, 14, 16, 18, 19, 20, and 25—For all persons
- Cols. 7, 8, 9, and 10—For heads of household only (Col. 8 requires no entry for a farm family)
- Col. 15—For married persons only
- Col. 17—For all persons 12 years of age and over
- Cols. 21, 22, and 23—For all foreign-born persons
- Col. 24—For all persons 10 years of age and over
- Col. 26, 27, and 28—For all persons for whom an occupation is reported in Col. 25
- Col. 30—For all males 21 years of age and over
Where are the original census records, and can I access them?
The original paper schedules have been destroyed; the 1930 census schedules were photographed and their images were placed on microfilm that is maintained by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).
What is an enumeration district?
An enumeration district is the geographical area that was assigned to a single census taker.
How many people were included in the 1930 census?
The general census recorded a population of approximately 123,202,624 individuals.
Why would I want to search the census by page number?
Once you have located a relative, you can use the page number to pull up other names from that same page in the census—your ancestor’s neighbors. Neighbors may provide valuable clues that you can use to further your research. During this time period, it was not uncommon for families to remain in close proximity to each other. You might find parents, siblings, or cousins living next door. In addition, groups of families often immigrated and settled together in America. You may find clues about the country and area that your ancestors came from.
Ancestry.com has an easier way to search for neighbors. When you reach an individual’s census record page, you can click the Family and Friends: View Results link to see the individual’s neighbors.
For information on locating and understanding U.S. census records, see Finding Answers in U.S. Census Records, by Loretto Dennis Szucs and Matthew Wright. This book covers the federal population schedules, state and local census schedules, and special census schedules.
To learn more about enumeration districts, the following reference materials might be useful. (These are available at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. and at NARA's regional records services facilities.)
- Enumeration District Maps for the Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930. (National Archives Microfilm Publication M1930), 35 rolls
- Index to Selected City Streets and Enumeration Districts, 1930. (National Archives Microfilm Publication M1931), 11 rolls.
- Descriptions of Census Enumeration Districts, 1830-1950. (National Archives Microfilm Publication T1224), rolls 61-90.
Note: To complement its collection of 1930 resources, The National Archives has also purchased copies of city directories for 1928-1932. For a complete list of which directories it has, see NARA's website. These are not National Archives publications, but can be purchased from Primary Source Microfilm (an imprint of the Gale Group). For ordering information call 1-800-444-0799.
Some information for this entry was taken from 1930 Federal Population Census: Catalog of National Archives Microfilm, National Archives Trust Fund Board (Washington, DC, 2002).
Some information for this article was provided by the U.S. Census Bureau.
ED Description data came from The National Archives and One-Step by Stephen P. Morse.