1930 Census Update

By Joseph Martin Premium

The wait is over. The 1930 US census&#151all 2,667 microfilm rolls of it&#151is officially open for business. On April 1, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) opened its doors in Washington, DC, and in regional facilities across the country to researchers eager to get their hands on these newly released records. Professional genealogy experts and hobbyists alike stood in line for a first crack at the census 72 years after it was taken, and here’s what some of them had to say:

Denver, Colo.
The opening of the 1930 census at Denver’s NARA branch was surprisingly quiet. There were only eight of us waiting for the door to open with almost as many staff and volunteers in the census room. Sydne McCoskey was in our group and reported that she was at the opening of the 1910 and 1920 censuses where there were at least 20 to 30 waiting in line.

Everyone had done their homework before the opening by using the finding aids such as enumeration district maps and descriptions and city directories. When we were comparing what states we were going to research, Susan Hertzke confessed that she had southern research and was going to use the Soundex.

Julie Miller was busy printing the pages from Broomfield, Colo. She plans post an index at the Broomfield County GenWeb site at

I found my 12-year-old father in Roberts County, SD, within five minutes because I had the enumeration district by using the finding aids last month. However, my mother was more difficult to locate. She told me she was living in Red Wing, Minn., in 1930 with her father. NARA does not have city directories for Red Wing and I had not taken the time to search local city directories prior to my census research. I decided to simply read the census line-by-line, but the results were negative. Her mother and step-father lived on a farm near Eagle Butte, SD, so I read every census page in Dewey County, SD, without success. I telephoned my mother at this point and learned that the farm was in Ziebach County. Armed with this new information, I finally located her. What an embarrassing lesson! I should have obtained land records years ago and should have known that the farm was in Ziebach County. It just proves that we never known when and how we learn our lessons in genealogy.

Kathleen W. Hinckley
Author of
Your Guide to the Federal Census

Washington, DC
It was a bright, sunny April 1 in Washington, DC, and a very important day at that. No, not April Fool’s Day, but the opening of the 1930 US census for researchers. My husband, Jim, and I were fortunate in a couple of ways. First, we were in Washington working on a research project and away from our home in Minnesota where it snowed. Second, we were among those invited to an early morning reception and ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the census opening with John W. Carlin, archivist of the United States, and representatives of the Census Bureau, including the new director, Louis Kincannon. It was very interesting to hear the stories of the personal genealogical research being done by Census Bureau staffers! But, even they did not get to see the census until April 1.

Chairs were set up for us to sit on during the ceremony and short program at the NARA building on Pennsylvania Avenue. It’s been a long time since we have seen so many reporters and cameras in one place. A large red, white and blue ribbon hung across the doorway to the microfilm room. Oh, it was tempting to duck under it and get to a microfilm reader! One interesting statement during the remarks was that about 20 million people who are alive today will be able to find themselves on the 1930 census.

After the remarks from the archivist and the director of the Census Bureau, they cut the ribbon and we were invited into Room 400. The excitement level was definitely rising. Reporters interviewed census researchers, photographers took hundreds of still shots, and the bright lights from the cameras of local Washington area television stations and the national media were everywhere.

There was no long line of people waiting for microfilm readers. Many of the researchers who regularly use the Archives had mentioned that they planned to stay away this week. NARA staff members indicated that the same thing happened when the 1920 census opened 10 years ago. Most researchers waited, hoping to avoid crowds the first week. As a result, the lines started to form the second week!

I had done my homework last week and was ready with my enumeration district numbers and microfilm roll numbers. On the 1920 census, my father had been only Baby Stuart and now I found him listed with his full name. I found many of the individuals associated with our research project and was pleased to find some relationships, occupations and ages at first marriage that will help in the ongoing research. I found the house we live in today and noted that, as on the 1920 census, the family living in the house had a servant.

Even though only some southern states are Soundexed, it was not difficult to locate almost everyone I was seeking. I was able to find several households in areas of dense population, Long Beach, Calif., and St. Paul, Minn.

NARA staff and volunteers have done a wonderful job of checking each roll for the enumeration districts, cities, towns and townships, gathering information for the labels for the boxes of microfilm and preparing helpful information sheets. Those who worked on this project had first to be sworn in as census enumerators and this meant they could not divulge any of the personal information on the census before April 1.

Be sure to check out NARA’s Web site for the 1930 Census Locator at There is a wealth of helpful information there. Enumeration District maps (M1930), Enumeration District descriptions (T1224), and Index to Selected City Streets and Enumerations Districts (M1931) finding aids have been microfilmed. I used M1931 to assist with the Long Beach address I found in the 1930 city directory. Alas, there was no listing in this finding aid for St. Paul, but using the ED descriptions and maps, I was able to narrow down the segment of microfilm to be checked. For the most part, I found this 1930 census microfilm quality to be far superior to the 1920 and 1910 census microfilms.

By the way, the Archives I building (in downtown Washington) installed brand new microfilm readers, and they were another plus for the day. I plan to return to do some more work on our project. I am sending the copies I made today to some of the individuals involved in the project and anxiously await their reactions. Now, back to preparing my list of additional locations to check over the next few days in the 1930 US census!

Paula Stuart Warren
Co-author of
Your Guide to the Family History Library

10:45 p.m., March 31, 2002: As I drove the near deserted highway in the pouring rain, my sense of anticipation and excitement about the upcoming events grew. The plan to be the first facility to open the 1930 census records at 12:01 am on April 1, 2002, had been hatched, and plans made for archivists and volunteers to meet at the National Archives Regional Facility in Waltham, Mass., at 11 p.m. on March 31 without any assurance that researchers would come. The pouring rain and the fact that it was Easter Sunday were additional obstacles to be overcome.

I approached the parking lot of the Waltham NARA facility and was thrilled to see a full parking lot. Some cars were still occupied while the lobby seemed packed with animated individuals awaiting entry into the research room. I entered the lobby to see many excited researchers, reporters, volunteers and NARA employees anxiously awaiting the magic hour of midnight. I signed in, along with 63 other individuals, received my volunteer badge, machine assignment and began my briefing as to the upcoming events.

The file cabinets containing the actual census films were wrapped in red, white and blue ribbons with a giant bow. Ribbon-cutting scissors were placed nearby. One of the computers was logged in to the official Washington, DC, site where the NARA clock was visible to assure that the law of 72 years for confidentiality was honored.

After many photographs, several short speeches and presentations, the countdown was under way. At exactly 12:01 a.m., the ribbon was cut and the volunteers and NARA staff went to work assisting the researchers to find their ancestors in the rolls of microfilm. Most researchers found the individuals they were seeking; a few were disappointed, but not discouraged. Excitement was at its peak when Bill Read, one of the NARA employees and volunteers, found himself on the 1930 census film!

Many gasps of excitement were heard over and over again as the night progressed, with researchers sharing their finds with others. Excitement was the order of the night and it was easy to forget that it was the wee hours of the morning. Adrenaline ruled and most researchers never slowed their pace. Some took breathers, enjoyed the many refreshments (and coffee) provided by the NARA staff, and took time to share their successes with others. After the first hour, the volunteers had little to do because most of the patrons were buried deep in their microfilm machines reading long ago written names, ages, places, occupations, etc.

When I left the NARA facility at 5 a.m., most microfilm machines were still in use and many researchers were deep in their research, despite the hour. NARA’s Waltham facility had successfully been the first in the country to officially open the 1930 census to the public.

Marcia Yannizze Melnyk
Author of
The Genealogist’s Question & Answer Book and The Weekend Genealogist

On Monday, April 1, I woke up before God. The 1930 census was making its debut at the National Archives, and I intended to be present for the occasion. From where I live, it’s a 45-minute drive to the Great Lakes branch in Chicago. The facility was open at 6:30 a.m. for self-service with staff arriving at 8 a.m. I arrived at 6:45 a.m. And what to my wondering eyes should appear, but donuts, coffee cake, chocolate brownies and coffee on a display table at the front door. What a welcome! Ten people were already at the film readers.

About one year ago I had located all my family addresses in city directories, and a few months back I used the NARA finding aids to locate the appropriate enumerator districts. So I just started. Using the NARA 1930 census binders, I was able to identify the correct rolls of film easily. The one person I really wanted to find was my paternal grandfather, Frank Adams, who disappeared in Chicago about 1923. I had four good candidates from the city directories of 1928 and 1932. But to my dismay, none of the four men appeared at the given addresses or anywhere within the enumerator districts. Thirty-one years of trying to locate him, and I still did not find him. The microfilm room became busier around 8 a.m., although I never saw all the readers being used at one time. I did see author and lecturer Tony Burroughs reading his own films and making copies. After five hours of research I was ready to leave, and my time was almost over. Here’s the score from my 1930 census searches: five families located in Bay City, Mich.; three families located in Detroit, Mich., for my cousin; four of my families located in Detroit, Mich. The only challenge was getting to a photocopy machine since the archives has only two.

The wait was about 20 to 30 minutes after each time I signed up. I did manage to obtain all the copies I needed. I found a few other stray records, and I left a few 1930 distant families for another day of research. The staff and the volunteers at the National Archives were exceptionally helpful as usual, and the atmosphere in the microfilm room was downright jovial. Congratulations to the Great Lakes Branch of the National Archives for a successful opening event.