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(c) Linda Haas Davenport (Updated 2007)
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Arrived here via a search engine? Please readcensus overview before continuing on.
The 1930 census was released April 1, 2002 and is the last census to be opened to the public. As I mentioned in mycensus overview censuses are released 72 years after the census date. Since the federal census was taken every 10 years the census bureau releases a census every 10 years. The 1940 census will not be released until 2012. If you jumped directly to this census without reading the census overview it will be to your benefit to take a minute and read it before you continue on here.
This is the census most new family historians begin with. In some ways it can be one of the hardest to use of the censuses. The sheer size of the census means that it can become a daunting task to just find the roll of microfilm your family might be listed on. On the other hand, it can be one of the easiest because the entire census has been indexed and the scanned census images are available on the internet.
The 1930 Census was under the direction of the Census Bureau and the population was counted by the enumerators (census takers) visiting each household within their enumeration district. This census contains the information on approximately 123+ million individuals. The date of the census was April 1, 1930 and the census was completed by May 31, 1930 for all states except Alaska where the census date was October 1, 1929. The 1930 census is on 2,667 rolls of microfilm. National Archive series T626. The rolls are numbered 1 through 2,668 with the number 1062 being skipped. According to the National Archives this was just an error made while numbering the film rolls.
The census schedules are broken down by state, then county, then political township and finally by the enumeration district. The microfilm of the actual census schedules is cataloged by state, county and then enumeration district. Unless your family was in a county with a relatively small population you'll be faced with the choice of several rolls of microfilm. For example, Tulsa County, OK was a fairly small county in 1930 yet its census spans 5 rolls of microfilm. New York's King County spans about 58.
The Census Bureau produced maps for each enumerator's district and the enumerator was instructed to visit each household in order. These enumeration maps are available from the National Archives - film series M190 on 36 rolls
A portion of the 1930 census has been indexed under the soundex indexing system. The states indexed are: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, part of Kentucky (Bell, Floyd, Harlen, Kenton, Muhlenberg, Perry, and Pike counties), Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and part of West Virginia (Fayette, Harrison, Kanawha, Logan, McDowell, Mercer, and Raleigh counties). Microfilm rolls - Series M2049-M2050 on 1,587 rolls, broken down by state and by letters of the alphabet.
Although scattered transcriptions (or indexes) of portions of the 1930 census are found on the web and ProQuest sells scanned images (by state) on CDs, for all practical purposes, at the moment, you have two options for using the 1930 census - locate and use the correct roll of microfilm or use ancestry.com's site. Let's take a look at both options.
The National Archive's 1930information section offers a lot of information about the 1930 census and suggestions for locating the correct roll or microfilm.
Most genealogy libraries have, at least, the 1930 census microfilm for its own area and most state archives have the full census. The libraries that have the microfilm usually have one or more microfilm rolls of the area's enumeration districts. Microfilm may be ordered, for a small mailing fee, through the LDS Family History Centers and the National Archives alsorents microfilm. But before you can order a roll of microfilm you have to know which microfilm roll you need. This is where ancestry.com comes into play.
Ancestry.com has indexed every name of the 1930 census, abet with many errors, but it is still an invaluable tool. A search of the 1930 census is free at ancestry, but if you want to look at the actual census schedule you have to pay (or locate free access). However, the free search is really helpful as it will give you a list of the name you searched for, the town and state the person is found in and an approximate date of birth. Even though you can't look at the census page itself you can narrow your location down some.
Most family historians will have no trouble locating their family(s) using Ancestry's index search engine as long as they know at least the state their family(s) lived in in 1930 and the name is not a common one. For example my family name of HAAS returned 135 entries for OK while my family name of WHITE returned 8,632. I tried to narrow down my WHITE search by using the man's first name of Dan - no luck, I used Daniel - no luck, I used D L - no luck, I used Daniel L - no luck, I tried Don - no luck. However, I am fortunate that the female in this family had an unusual name - Virgie. A search of Virgie White immediately turned up my family (with the man's name listed as Dan). Keep in mind, like all indexes, this one is not 100% accurate. Unless you have a relatively uncommon name you're going to have to also know the county or have another means of eliminating a huge number of possibilities.
Most genealogy libraries subscribe to ancestry and make it available for free to their patrons. Many of the LDS Family History Centers also have subscriptions to ancestry and, of course, you can pay for access and search from home. Ancestry allows you to download the census images or print them.
It's when you simply can't find your family in the index search that you will have to try to locate them the hard way. The NARA site offers an abundance of tips but I'll add a few more for the new family historian.
Many new family historians are not yet aware that their family name can often be indexed under different spellings. By 1930 most people could read and write and the prohibition against asking an individual to spell their name had been removed from the enumerator's instructions. It therefore seems likely that most census takers asked people how to spell their last names if it wasn't a common name. But, it's just as possible that they did not and wrote down the name spelled as it sounded. The most common cause of errors in indexes is the census taker's handwriting. Not every census taker's handwriting is easy to read and names are often abstracted incorrectly when indexes are made. Many letters within a name are very difficult to distinguish between - a and o, n and r, s and r are some examples. If the name is common it is probably indexed correctly or spelled in the most common way. When I look at the 1930 census sheet for my WHITE family the W looks like a U but because White is a such a common name it's indexed correctly. An uncommon name that began with a W might have been indexed under the Us. . Search the index over and over using every spelling you can think of. If you still come up blank try searching for a neighbor or an in-law with a different last name or, as I did, for a member of the family with an unusual first name. It is also possible that your family was not counted. The most common percentage of missed people that I've seen is roughly 10-15%. When you're talking about 123+ million names, that's a lot of people.
If you can't find your family in the index search engine and have not yet gathered all available information from your home sources you need to leave the search of 1930 census until you have. If you don't know how to do that use one of the big search engines and search for "genealogy instructions beginner". You are going to have to know the state and county your family lived in in 1930 to find them or to be sure they were not listed.
If you don't have access to ancestry anywhere, you'll have to find your family the hard way. First check to see if your ancestor's state was one of the ones indexed using the Soundex. If so locate the microfilm and order it first. If your ancestor's state was indexed under the Soundex, armed with the information of state and county your next step is to determine if the county your family lived in is found on only one roll of microfilm or several (use the NARA site). If your family is in a county that is on one roll of microfilm gain access to that roll of microfilm and check it line by line.
If the county spans several rolls of microfilm you have to narrow down your search by using an approximate address for your family to locate the correct enumeration district. Beginning research guides tell you to collect all the death certificates possible for your family. Recheck them and see if one of them died shortly before or after the 1930 census. If so start your search over again using that address. If you have no success that way (or if you don't have a death certificate that will help) you'll have to narrow down the location by other means.
Most main county libraries have copies of old city directories and/or phone books that you family may be listed in. Each list addresses. Either Redbook or Handybook for Genealogist will give you the address and phone number of the correct library. Some of the larger libraries have web sites. If your family owned their home (or business location) checking the deed records at the county courthouse will give you their actual address. If they didn't own land or you don't have no access to the county courthouse, try to locate voter rolls for 1930 - check with the local genealogy society for their location. Lots of "how-to" web pages, books, etc., give many examples of records that can be searched to locate your family. If you know (or feel sure) that your family lived in the same area in both 1920 and 1930 try locating your family in the 1920 census which will give you a clue as their location in the 1930 census.
If you have come up with a general area but no actual address that will let you find the correct roll of microfilm contact the genealogy library or genealogy society in the area and ask for the enumeration district map(s) microfilm number for the smallest area you have. Order the enumeration district map microfilm. Searching one or two rolls of microfilm isn't that difficult.
Once you have located your family on the census schedule very carefully abstract the information on to a 1930 census abstract form and if at all possible make a copy of the census sheet, the one before and the one after. All of the information on the census schedule should be used to locate source documents. Bear in mind that the census date was April 1st and even if the census taker did not interview the family until late May the information was to be accurate as of April 1st.
The individual questions on the census records are listed on the NARA site and I won't duplicate them here. I'll hit the high points only - Home owned or rented? If owned search land records; Use Age at Last Birthday to compute a birth year; Use Age at First Marriage to compute the year the person married (to find marriage records); Whether the person could read or write will help you separate families when you move to earlier censuses; Places of birth for person, father and mother will give you at least the state and a date to move backwards to; Citizenship and Language will let you know if you need to look for immigration records; Veteran information will be your clue to search for military records. The sections listed "Code" are for the use of the census bureau and have nothing to do with your family.
Next - 1920 Census
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