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Anatomy of the 1930 federal census

This article is part of a continuing series looking at each federal census individually. Please read the others in the archives of this column.

The 1930 U. S. federal census is currently the most recent census available, by law, which restricts access to the census for 72 years. The 1940 census will not be publicly available until 2012. If your parents or grandparents were born prior to 1930, you should be able to locate them in this record. Here is the information you can expect to find.

Place of Abode: In towns and cities, this column will provide the street address where the family resided. Compare this to contemporary maps and other nearby families to see who the neighbors were – could the neighbors also have been family?
Name/Relationship: It is not uncommon to find elderly parents or in-laws (even aunts, uncles, etc.) living with the family. Use these clues to take you back into the previous generations.
Home Data: There are four questions in this section: whether home owned or rented; value of house if owned or monthly rent if rented; whether they own a radio set; and whether they live on a farm. These answers can lead you to other records, such as deeds, leases, and census farm schedules.
Personal Description: Sex, color/race, age at last birthday, marital condition, and age at first marriage. African-Americans are designated as “Neg” for “Negro” in this census. Most of the states had begun to record vital statistics, so be sure to check for birth and marriage certificates. Do not assume that the current marriage is the first marriage!
Education: Whether they attended school since September 1929, and whether they can read or write. This may lead you to school records where they are still existent, but otherwise may provide some context to your history.
Place of birth: There were several significant waves of African-American migration north from the Deep South over the previous fifty years. This section provides the place of birth for each person and their parents, which will provide additional clues to help you move backward.
Mother tongue: This will be either blank or “English” for all native-born U. S. citizens.
Citizenship: Year of immigration, naturalization status, and whether able to speak English. This section will be blank for most native-born U. S. citizens.
Occupation and industry: A person’s occupation can help with identification. If there were multiple people with the same name, a trade might be used to distinguish them.
Employment: Whether at work on the last workday. With the previous section, this will provide some insight into the impact of the Great Depression on your family.
Veterans: Did the person serve in the U. S. military? If so, during which conflict? You will find veterans of World War I (1917-1918) and the Spanish-American War (1898-1900) most often, but you will even find some elderly veterans of the Civil War (1861-1864) still living. Follow-up with military records for your veteran ancestors.
Number on farm schedule: Definitely find the agricultural/“farm” schedule if there is a number here. This special non-population schedule of the census provides a lot of details on individual farms, including the number of acres, and information on the livestock and crops. 
Be sure to follow up on all clues by searching for more reliable records. Remember that there is one inherent flaw in census records: the informant is not identified. The information may have come directly from the head of household, but may also have come from another member of the household, or even a neighbor (if no one was home when the enumerator visited).

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