What Can You Learn From The 1930 Census Records?

By | July 19, 2017

Do you want to know what your ancestors were doing a year after the Great Depression. The 1930 census records can not only show you where they living, but also what their job was, whether they owned their own home and so much more. So please read on as I discuss what you can find out about your ancestors from these census records.

1930 Census Records

Did the Great Depression hit your ancestors hard?

The Great Depression started in the United States in 1929 and spread all over the world. This was the biggest financial depression of the 20th Century and it would last until 1941. It began because of a major fall in stock prices and led to a market crash in October 1929.

This post is not about the Great Depression but I did want to highlight why you may make some discoveries about your family from these records. After all unemployment did rise to 25% in America because of this depression.

So if you find that your ancestors were out of work or were renting then this maybe the reason why.

Not only do I like to get names and dates from census records to build my tree but I like to look further into the information that they hold. They can hold so much more, you just need to look.

Credit: Ancestry

So What’s In The 1930 Census Records?

All of the states were required to collect information from approximately 123 million individuals. The fiftheenth census will give you a glimpse into your ancestors live which was taken from April 2nd 1930, (but did reflect their lives as of April 1st). Alaska however began this task from October 1st. Alaskans were also asked slightly different questions to the rest of the states.

Searching For Records

Unique features of the 1930 census records

This was the case as well for Indians where they were asked which tribe their mother belonged instead of their mother’s country of origin.

If you know that you have a military ancestor in your family tree be prepared to find that they will not be listed with their family. Instead they treated as residents of where they were assigned to. So they may not be listed in their own hometown.

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Other territories included:

  • American Samoa
  • Guam
  • Panama Canal Zone
  • Puerto Rico
  • U.S. Virgin Islands

The 13 key elements of the 1930 census records!

At the top of the form you will find which town, county and state that the information was collected. Also, you will find the date on which the enumerator carried out the census. Do bare in mind as I have already mentioned information collected would reflect your ancestor’s status as of April 1st.

Place of abode

The first key element of the census was broken down into 4 parts:

  1. Street, avenue, road, etc – The street address would have appeared vertically across the page as there would have been many people listed within the same street, avenue, road, etc.
  2. House number – Self explanatory really, this was the number of the house which your ancestor lived at.
  3. Number of dwelling house in order of visitation – The enumerator would have listed a number to reflect the order of houses that they visited.
  4. Number of family in order of visitation – And you may find that more than one family may have lived at the same residence. This maybe the case if your ancestors took in boarders in order to supplement their income.


Obviously the main key element which you will use in order to find your ancestor. You may find that your ancestor was listed by their surname followed by their first name and initial.

If you cannot find your ancestor you may try just entering their initials. Or you may also try alternative spellings of their surname.


The first person listed within each family group was typically the male, the father of the family. This person would have been referred to as the head of the family. Subsequent people may have been wife; daughter; son; boarder; etc.

This is great information as you can use this, together with the name element, to help you build your family tree. Using census records and these two key elements has helped me enormously expand my own family tree to include many, many names.

Home data

This fourth key element was divided into 4 parts:

  1. Home owned or rented – The government was interested to know whether your ancestor either owned or rented the home in which they lived in.
  2. Value of home – Following on from the previous question the government also wanted to know the value of their home. However, if your ancestor rented their accommodation then the amount of monthly rental was listed.
  3. Radio set – Quite unique to the census records was the inclusion as to whether individuals owned a radio set.
  4. Does this family live on a farm – The government also wanted to know whether the family lived on a farm or not.

House and Land

Personal description

This key element was divided into 5 parts:

  1. Sex – Obviously individuals would have either have been listed as Male or Female. If your ancestor’s name is illegible you maybe able to deduce it from knowing the sex of the person.
  2. Color or race – This can give you an insight into the ethnicity of your ancestor.
  3. Age at last birthday – The person’s current age at the time of the census.
  4. Marital condition – A person would have been listed as Married; Single; Widowed; or Divorced.
  5. Age at first marriage – The individual’s age when he or she first got married.


As part of the Education element of the census the question was asked whether the individual had attended school since September 1st 1929. Following on from this the government also wanted to know whether the individual could read and write. Previous census records would split this question.

Place of birth

Divided into three parts the origins of the person together with the origins of their father and mother. This can really give you a clue as to where you need to search next for the previous branch of your family tree.

Mother Tongue

This question was only answered if the individual was born outside of the United States. The person’s first language was thus given for this question of the census.


Broken into 3 parts:

  1. Year of immigration into the United States – The first part of this question can help you to find when your ancestor migrated to the States. It can also help you to narrow down your search for their passenger records.
  2. Naturalization – You can find out by this question whether they had been naturalized by the time of the 1930 census records. This can obviously help you again to narrow down your search for this particular record.
  3. Whether able to speak English – The government wanted to know whether individuals could speak the language of the United States.

Occupation and industry

You can find out so much from this particular element of the census record. I have found out so much about my ancestors as I not only learned what my ancestors occupations were but also what it did involved as well. For example, I gained more of an insight into my ancestors work live by discovering what it meant to be an agricultural laborer, a coal miner and a blacksmith.

The second part of this key element was interested to know what industry or business your ancestor was associated with.



Following on from the previous element individuals had to indicate whether they had worked the previous day. This questioning was different to past census records where people had to list how long they had been unemployed for a specific amount of time.


Was your ancestor a veteran of the U.S. military or naval forces? You can find out the answer to this from this key element of the census record. And if your ancestor answered yes to this question then the war or expedition that they were a part of was listed.

Number of farm schedule

If your ancestor lived on a farm then the order of visited was listed. This was mostly important for the government to know.

My Final Thoughts on the 1930 Census Records

There is plenty of information that you will find out about your ancestor from the 1930 census records. It is really fascinating to me to find out what my ancestors were doing at the time of the Great Depression. Just how did this event in America’s history affect their lives?

Just where did they live? What did they do for a living?

I have found that with the passing of each census record that you will find out more about your ancestors. And this is particularly true for the fifteenth census of the United States.

Finding out your ancestors through census records can be a lot of fun. And the great part is that from this information you can find more records containing your ancestors.

What I have also found out is that my own genealogy journey is never-ending. So what are you waiting for?

Thank You and Please Leave A Comment

I hope you enjoyed this post explaining what you can learn from the 1930 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 1930 Census Records?

  1. Merry

    I always love coming back to your site and seeing what else I can learn Owain. I did start a family search but got lost a little at a certain point as I didn’t know the first names of my great great grandparents. I do know they migrated from the US to Quebec and was able to put together some fascinating information. I am wanting to do the DNA test. Do you know much about that? Thanks for your wonderful information.

    1. Owain Post author

      Hi Merry,

      I am so glad to hear that you love coming back to my genealogy. That’s great.

      As for DNA testing I have written a post called What Is A Genealogy DNA Test? which discusses the four types of DNA testing and also the companies that provide it. Hope this helps.

      All the best with your genealogy research.

  2. Stephen Tattershall

    This is great information, and I plan to pass it on to my niece who is doing the family tree research for our family. Mostly, it looks very clear, although I’m a bit unsure of the best way to view this 1930 census data. I’ve visited the national archives site, and given enough time with google and these government sites, I can get it. That said, this would be a better, more useful post if it was easy to find a link or other simple info on how to find these records for one’s ancestors. If it is there, I missed it – my mistake in that case.

    In any case, thanks for this thoughtful explanation

    1. Owain Post author

      Thanks for your comment Stephen. I am in the process of editing and updating my current series of Census Records posts. This is something that I will be covering so check back in the near future for references on how to find these records.


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