What Can You Learn From The 1920 Census Records?

By | July 14, 2017

Do you know what your ancestors were doing during the Roaring Twenties? Well, the 1920 census records can give you a glimpse into their lives by looking at what they were doing at the start of the 1920s.

Please read on as I will show you what you can uncover about them by using this resource.

1920 Census Records

Discussed in this post:

What’s In These Records?

The 1920 census records can give you a glimpse into their lives, a snapshot into their world which was taken on January 1st 1920. All fifty states were covered as well as Military and Naval Forces.

Places such as the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and also for the first time American Samoa, Guam and the Panama Canal Zone.

1920 Census Records Blank Form

* Please visit National Archives for full blank form *

Besides the street address and the number of farm schedule, (a number deferring to visiting a farm), there are nine other key elements that make up the 1920 census records.

Some of these key elements are further broken down into a number of parts which I will discuss in turn.

The 9 key elements that make up the 1920 census records!


This is obviously the key element that will help you to search for your ancestor and also help you to identify whether you are looking at the correct individual or not.

If you are unsuccessful in finding your ancestor I do suggest that you try alternative spellings of their name. I have found some of my ancestors spelt with the surname Cauch and Cooch, even though my surname is Couch.

You could also try just searching for your ancestors by just their initials as sometimes individuals were recorded that way.


The first person of a family was listed as the head of the household and then you have the relationship between him/her to the other people. So you could have wife, son, daughter, boarder, servant and so on.

This is quite helpful to you for one important reason. For example if you had a male and a female living together with the same surname and similar age you may think that they are husband and wife.

But did you consider that they may actually be brother and sister?

That is definitely a possibility. Sometimes you need to think about all the different reasons and not to jump to conclusions. That is something that I have realized through genealogy research.


The government wished to know whether individuals owned their home or not. And if they did own their home whether it was free of mortgage.

House and Land

Personal Description

This key element is broken down into four parts which are:

Sex – If you are unable to read the name of the individual because of the handwriting you can refer to the sex of the person. This can help you to decipher what their name was.

Color or race – If you are unsure as to your ancestor’s ethnicity then this can really help you to look further into other records that contain them.

Age at last birthday – If you already know your ancestor’s date of birth then you can compare their age at the time of the census to see if you do in fact have the right person in front of you.

Please be aware though that there maybe some errors with this value. This could be due to forgetfulness or the individual lying about their age.

Marital status – Answers could have included single, married, divorced or widowed.


This key element is divided into three parts:

Year of immigration – If your ancestor was an immigrant into the United States then you can find out when they first entered the country. This can then help you to find them within passenger records.

Naturalized or alien – Find out whether they had been naturalized by the time of the 1920 census records or whether they were still an alien.

Year of naturalized – And if they were naturalized then you can find out the year that this took place. This can obviously help you to pinpoint when you should be looking for this record.


The government wanted to know whether individuals had attended school since the time of the census and September 1st 1919. Also, were they able to read and write.

Nativity and Mother Tongue

You can learn more about your ancestor and his/her parents by this key element of the records. Find out which state or country that your ancestor was born. Also, finding out whether their parents were born can show you where to look for their birth records and other information about them.


Besides knowing whether the individual could read and write the government also wanted to know whether they could speak English as well.



What was your ancestor’s trade or profession? What was their industry or the establishment that they worked for? And were they an employer or an employee?

All of these questions will be answered for you within the last key element of the 1920 census record.

Where Can I Find These Records?

By now you are probably wondering just where can you find these records so that you can start looking for your ancestors. Well there is a free option that I would like to share with you first. And then there are a couple of paid options that you can consider as well.

Where can I find the 1880 census records

Your FREE option!

Whenever you can I do suggest that you try to find your ancestors by choosing the free method. Why would you spend money that could be better spent? It doesn’t make sense.

Ok, so where should you go?

My free option for you is to go to FamilySearch. This website offers millions of records. I have used this site extensively and have found my ancestors through many records, besides census records.

It is definitely a good option to check this out first. But there is a drawback to this site and that is that you may not find your ancestor. Sure they have millions of records but there is still the possibility that you will unfortunately not find them.

Your PAID options!

For that reason you should check out two paid websites that I regularly go to for help. The two sites that I suggest are Ancestry and FindMyPast. They again contain much more records within their database compared to FamilySearch so there is a better chance of finding your ancestors through these sites.

Credit: Ancestry

The first site that I go to is Ancestry because it was the first genealogy site that I discovered. We have all heard of Ancestry right? There are TV adverts on all the time either promoting what you can uncover about your ancestors, or explaining to you about AncestryDNA.

Besides census records you can also uncover other records and documents about your ancestors. These can include birth, marriage and death certificates, wills and probates, military records, business directories and so much more.

So all of that information is in the one place. You don’t have to go from one site to another searching for your ancestor’s records.

Pretty convenient right?

You can also check out family trees that have been submitted by other Ancestry members. This has proved helpful to me as I have looked at how I can expand my own family tree. You do have to be cautious though by using this feature of Ancestry as some members trees contain glaring mistakes.

So why use FindMyPast as well?

Sometimes though you may not find your ancestors within the Ancestry database. The three reasons that this can occur is that either the record does not exist, it hasn’t been uploaded yet, or it has been updated but has been indexed incorrectly.

What do I mean by this last reason?

Well, quite simply the transcriber may have entered your ancestor’s name incorrectly. This could be because they miskeyed the name or the enumerator’s handwriting was illegible. This was a common occurrence as sometimes I have seen some quite fancy writing on these forms.

You know full well how your ancestor’s surname was spelt but the transcriber does not know him so they have to enter their best-guess sometimes.

I can try alternative spellings of my ancestor’s name but sometimes that is not enough. So that is why I will turn my attention to FindMyPast. This has proved successful as I have found several ancestor records through this second site when Ancestry has failed me.

It maybe costly to join two genealogy search sites but it has helped me immensely find my ancestors and build my family tree.

My Final Thoughts

In this post I have covered what you can expect from these records. There is definitely a lot of information that you can find out about your ancestors. But the information does not stop there as I have also discussed.

Like me you can really benefit by writing your very own family history book. By doing so you can spot any holes in your knowledge of your ancestor. And then you can go off and try and find those records that can help you.

For me I was able to discover some interesting newspaper articles concerning my third great grandfather Henry Couch and his brush with the law. They were very minor but my father did not even know about them. So it was quite surprising for him.

All of this information is out there, you just need to look. These census records can give you a glimpse into your ancestors lives. You can then start to ponder this information and look for more information.

I wish you all the best for your genealogy research.

Further Information!

After reading this helpful guide you may want to check out further information regarding US Census Records. Why not head on over to the United States Census Bureau for help with your genealogy research.

Thank You and Please Leave A Comment

I hope you enjoyed this post explaining what you can learn from the 1920 census records. If you think that this post will be helpful to others then please share it with friends and family using the social media buttons below.

If you have any questions or comments then please leave a comment below. I would love to hear from you.

Author: Owain

Hello, Owain here. After researching my family history for a number of years I wanted to give back to the genealogy world. So here you will find guides, tips and product reviews that will help you on your genealogy journey.

4 thoughts on “What Can You Learn From The 1920 Census Records?

  1. BingC

    This is very interesting! I only wish I can use it. I’m pretty much the first generation of my family that lives in my family. I might be able to look up my wife’s family, at least. Thank you. I will definitely start with the free access.

    1. Owain Post author

      If your going to research your wife’s family tree then I would suggest you first ask her relatives for help. Get names, dates and places so you have something to work with.

      All the best.

  2. Rob

    Wow! This is really interesting. I did not know you could do this. I think it is very cool that you can track your ancestors and see what they were doing like their occupation. I will look into it. Thanks for the post.

    1. Owain Post author

      You’re quite welcome Rob. There is so much that you can learn from census records. I was just amazed at other records that I cauld track down. And also the stories that I uncovered.


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