1930 Census Research - "A Whole New Ball Game"




Welcome to this discussion of search procedures for the 1930 Federal Census. For the purpose of this discussion, we will assume that everyone has experience in working with previously released census records, both population schedules and Soundex or Miracode index films.

Today we will deal with the 1930 census (to be released April 1st), and the new and mostly different (and mostly more difficult) procedures that will be required to conduct a successful search. For best results please maximize this window to full screen on your computer.

As in past years, before going to the census itself it will be necessary to determine the correct ED (Enumeration District) number.

It is true that in earlier census years it was occasionally possible to have success without knowing the ED number, by conducting a "fishing expedition" through an entire town, township, or county, but for 1930 the chances of success with such a strategy are so remote as to be virtually impossible.

Determining the ED number will be a more difficult and time-consuming process for 1930 than almost anyone might have imagined. This statement is true for most of us, but not for a fortunate few searching in the 10 states of the deep South (Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, Virginia, and everything south of them to the Gulf) and in a handful of counties in Kentucky and West Virginia.

These locations ARE Soundexed for 1930, and they can be searched in exactly the same manner as in 1920. These Soundex films will be released April 1st and available at all NARA (National Archives and Records Administration) branches on that date. There is no name index of any kind available for the remainder of the nation.

For most of our searches, we must find the ED number in another way. This will require that we know the exact location of our target people. In very rural areas it may be sufficient to simply know the right township or approximate location of our target, but in any city or town (of any size) you will need a street address in order to determine the ED.

In 1930 a much higher percentage of our population was urban than ever before, and towns were much larger than in previous years. It is true that large parts of the nation were not indexed for 1910, and that no place was Soundexed prior to 1880, and yet these difficulties were usually overcome without great effort.

This will not be the case for 1930, one can accurately say that it is a whole new ball game. A street address must now be considered a virtual necessity in order to find the ED.

What if you don't have a street address? Use the time you have before April 1st to go find it! Family sources are often best for this, talk to the older generations in your family, read old obits and announcements, examine old letters and envelopes, voter registration, & ship manifests.

Check Social Security applications (if they did not move during the 30's), previous census records (more on this later), telephone and other directories, birth, death, & marriage records, court cases, scrapbooks, school, church and employment records, naturalizations, et cetera. Among the best and easiest to use sources are old city directories.

City Directories can be found in many libraries around the country. NARA has purchased an extensive set of city directories for the years close to 1930. These city directories, which are not government records, are available at all the NARA branches.

A complete list of the cities and years for which city directories are available at NARA can be found at the NARA website at http://www.nara.gov/genealogy/citydirs.html Be sure to check the alphabetical listings for your target people in several years (e.g. 1928, 1929, 1930, 1931) if available. Record all street addresses found.

I HAVE THE STREET ADDRESS, NOW WHAT? You need to determine the correct ED, using one of several available methods. The best of these methods, available for over 50 cities and some counties, is microfilm series M1931 (7 rolls). This is a cross index to city streets and ED's for the 1930 census.

See the following NARA webpage: http://www.nara.gov/genealogy/1930census_city_streets.html With M1931 you can quickly and accurately determine the ED your street address is in. Only about 30 of the 100 largest cities in 1930 are found cross indexed in M1931.

A group of census experts (and NARA volunteers) from California has extended the indexing effort to all the top 100 cities. This effort, known as ITWIT (no, not nitwit ), has created an outstanding and extremely useful website at http://home.pacbell.net/spmorse/census/

I urge all of you to visit this site, and be sure to click on the frequently asked questions button. This site has been operational for less than ten days, but is already considered indispensable for 1930 census work. This site is available online (not at NARA except those NARA branches that offer internet access) and will help you to quickly and accurately determine the ED by inputting the street address.

A few notes about using ITWIT. The directional designator must be properly used for the right result. For example, my grandfather in 1930 lived in Seattle on Alder Street. In Seattle then and now locations are usually given by the street name, omitting the E, W, etc. The official address of his house was on E. Alder, half a block from where it is simply Alder St.

Inputting Alder St. (the common usage) into ITWIT yields several ED's, none of which was his correct one. Only when E. Alder St. was input did the correct ED come up.

Another thing to bear in mind with ITWIT is that it is brand new, essentially a very good rough draft, and minor errors will show up. For example, my grandfather's old house in Los Angeles now in 1930 belonged to his brother. It was on W. 93rd St. between Broadway and Figueroa.

M1931, T1224, and M1930 (see below for the latter two) all clearly show that this street was a boundary between two ED's, meaning that houses on different sides of the street were in different ED's. ITWIT however only shows one ED for this street, so if that house were across the street its correct ED would not show up. These minor errors are being corrected constantly as soon as they are found.

If your location is not covered by either M1931 or ITWIT, we have several more finding aids available. Even if you think you have the right ED using either of the above methods, it is a good idea to use these next methods to double check.

The next best method available is microfilm series T1224 (30 rolls for 1930), Geographic Descriptions of census ED's. This aid gives a complete description, sometimes block by block in cities, of every one of the over 120,000 ED's used in 1930 for the whole nation. It can be extremely helpful in rural areas or small towns, but in large cities the previously mentioned methods are usually the best first choice.

Many people had very high hopes when it was announced that the complete series of ED maps for 1930 for the whole nation would be filmed and available through NARA. This film series is M1930 (36 rolls), containing over 8300 maps.

Unfortunately, the quality of the maps vary, and in most cases this series is of less use than the aids previously mentioned, although useful as a cross check. NARA branches also have available larger and easier to read hard copies of many of these maps, but it can still be nearly impossible in large cities to determine the ED using this method.

If you have located your target in the 1920 census, and are certain that they have not moved for 1930, you can use the 1920 ED and the street address to find the 1930 ED in T1224. T1224 cross references the 1930 ED numbers to those used for the same location in 1920.

Care must be taken in this however, since most 1920 ED's comprise from 2 to as many as 8 different ED's in 1930. Combining this with use of the street address while searching T1224 will give the best results.

The final step is to search the census itself. You go to the correct state, county, and ED. For rural areas you will have to perform a line by line search of the entire ED, but for towns and cities you will probably be able to search the left hand margin of the census sheets looking for the street name and ultimately the house number, then checking for the desired name.

To sum up, here are the seven different finding aids I have listed above:
Soundex name indexing films (deep South only) City Directories films (for finding street address) M1931 films (use street address to find ED) ITWIT (use street address to find ED) (not available at NARA, only online) T1224 films (use street address or 1920 ED to find 1930 ED) M1930 films (use street address to find ED) Hard copies of ED maps (use street address to find ED).

Of all the aids I have mentioned, everything but the Soundex and the census itself is available for use right now. These finding aids are not in heavy use at present, but are expected to be in high demand after April 1st. Use of the online ITWIT site can also be expected to soar after April.

NARA expects that usage of its research rooms will skyrocket in April, and usage of microfilm reading machines will be strictly limited to two hours when we are in a waiting list situation. We anticipate that this will be the case at essentially all times from April 1st until about August 1st. Some NARA branches handle the rush differently, often by a reservation system. Check with the branch you are interested in visiting.

The average successful 1920 census search takes about 20 minutes. We believe that the average successful 1930 search will take about 3-4 hours. This is roughly ten times as long, and many of our patrons will find this frustrating. To make matters worse, the 2 hour limit when others are waiting for a machine will mean that most people will have to be interrupted before completing a successful search.

Since most of the necessary resources are available right now when they are under utilized, and since the facilities will be so overtaxed very soon, it makes sense to do as much of the work now as possible. I urge everyone to get to work on their 1930 searches as soon as they can.

WHAT SHOULD I BRING WITH ME WHEN I COME TO NARA? As with most research, the more information you bring with you, the more you can learn and the more successful your research. Try whenever possible to bring the following information and items with you when you come to NARA to do 1930 census research:

Complete names and ages of everyone you expect to find in the family. Street address for 1930. City or town if street address is unknown. Census information for the family in 1920, including street address and ED number. Bring change for the copy machines and donation jar.

In addition, I strongly recommend that you print out and bring two maps for each street address or location you are searching. I use one close up map showing the exact address and covering only a few city blocks, and a second map zoomed out to show major streets and arterials for a couple miles in each direction. These are available at several locations online, as well as several street mapping programs on CD-ROM.

The best webpage for general information on the 1930 census and the search processes available for it is NARA's 1930 webpage at: http://www.nara.gov/genealogy/1930cen.html

This essay is Copyright 2002 by Kevin Fraley. Revocable permission is granted for reuse or republication in whole or in part for instructional purposes by any official webpage or publication of the USGenWeb Project or the USGenWeb Census Project provided there is no exchange of monetary consideration or commercial use; and further provided that this entire notice shall accompany any such reuse or republication.

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