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
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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
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
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
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:
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
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
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
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
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
The best webpage for general information on the 1930 census and the
search processes available for it is NARA's 1930 webpage at:
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
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provided that this entire notice shall accompany any such reuse or
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