1930 United States Census Records: A Research Guide

The 1930 census was the 15th federal census taken by the United States, which has taken a census each decade since 1790. These 1930 census records included the 48 states then in the United States as well as Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the Panama Canal Zone, the Virgin Islands, and Washington, D.C.

Enter a name below to search for your ancestors in United States 1930 census records.

What Made the 1930 Census Distinctive?

girl standing outside

The 1930 Census Records of Unemployment

The 1930 census day was April 1. Sadly, the stock market had crashed just six months before, and the nation was in the depths of the Great Depression. The government had hoped to collect unemployment statistics with this census; however, the census had no questions regarding employment. Though there was a rushed attempt to collect unemployment information in an added sheet of questions, the numbers reported were determined to be too low. Congress later required a special unemployment census to be taken in January 1931.

Although the unemployment information gathered with the 1930 census was later found to inaccurately reflect the seriousness of the unemployment problem, it still provides worthwhile information to review. Enumerators were instructed to fill out an additional sheet of questions for all gainful workers who were not at work on the workday before the enumeration date. Some of the questions included the following:

  1. Does this person usually work at a gainful occupation?
  2. Does this person usually have a job of any kind?
  3. How many weeks since he has worked at that job?
  4. Why was he not at work yesterday?
  5. How many days does he work in a full-time week?
  6. Is he able to work?
  7. Is he looking for a job?

New Questions

Four new questions were added to this federal census. These new questions included the value of the home or how much was paid in rent, the age at the time of the first marriage, which (if any) war did a person participate in, and whether the occupants of the home owned a radio.

Changes in Enumerating Active-Duty Servicemen

For the first time, servicemen were not recorded with their families. Instead, they were treated as residents of their duty stations.

Veteran Information Collected

Questions 30 and 31 pertained to veterans of the United States military or naval forces who had been mobilized for any war or expedition. If a person was a veteran of a conflict, he was asked to name which conflict he had been in. Enumerators entered “WW” for World War I, “Sp” for the Spanish-American War, “Civ” for the Civil War, “Box” for the Boxer Rebellion, “Phil” for the Philippine Insurrection, or “Mex” for the Mexican Expedition.

Can You Read and Write?

It is interesting to note that the 1930 census is the last census that asked people whether they could read or write.

1930s family posing for a photo

Race Categories Were Expanded

In previous federal censuses, the race column was inadequate. For example, the 1910 census allowed for only white, black, mulatto, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, and “ot” (meaning other), which was meant to apply to anything else.

In 1930, enumerators were instructed no longer to use “mulatto” as a race classification, and, for the first and only time, “Mexican” was listed as a race option.

This census expanded the options for recording race as follows:

W—White                      Jp—Japanese

Neg—Negro                   Fil—Filipina

Mex—Mexican             Kor—Korean

In—Indian                    Hin—Hindu

Ch—Chinese                 *Other races, spelled out in full

Life Leading Up to the 1930 Census

Learning a little bit about the nation and its people leading up to the 1930 census will give you a greater understanding of the lives of your ancestors.

The 1920s brought home the last of the American troops returning from Europe after World War I, gave women the right to vote, and ushered in the era of radio entertainment. Innovation and creativity led to greater industry, a more modern dress for men and women, and significant prosperity for families. Unfortunately, the beginning of the decade was a stark contrast to the end of the decade. The 1920s had begun with a roar of glory but unfortunately ended in a crash of great sadness.

How did the events of the 1920s and 1930s affect your family? Search the 1930 census for their story!

1930 United States Census Records: A Research Guide