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Deep Dive into the Census

1920 Census entry for Kate McCann

Introduction to the Census Questions

Census questions reflect statistics the government wished to gather in more detail from among the population of the residents of the United States. Language used in these questions, particularly when read with a twenty-first century lens, can be surprising if not shocking. This reflects the language of the day regarding terms and terminology.

All of the language used below reflects actual questions asked in the census for a given year.

For more details, please see:

Vital details. 1850-1940.

  • Name, race, and gender: 1850-1940.
  • Relationship to head of household: 1880-1940.
Age and birth
  • Age: 1850-1940.
  • Place of birth: 1850-1940.
  • Date of birth: 1900.
  • If born within the census year, which month? 1870-1880.
Marriage and marital status
  • Married within the census year? 1850-1860.
  • If married with the last year, which month? 1870.
  • Single, married, widowed, or divorced? 1880-1940.
  • Number of years married: 1900-1910.
  • Age at first marriage: 1930.
Parentage
  • Is father of foreign birth? 1870.
  • Father’s place of birth: 1880-1930.
  • Is mother of foreign birth? 1870
  • Mother’s place of birth: 1880-1930.
Children
  • For mothers, how many children has the person had? 1900-1910.
  • How many of those children are living? 1900-1910.

Ability and physical limitations. 1830-1880; 1910.

  • No. of White persons and the number of “slaves and colored persons” who were blind, respectively: 1830.
  • No. of White persons who were deaf and dumb (by age breakdown): 1840.
  • No. of White persons who were blind: 1840.
  • No. of White persons who were insane and idiots (at public and private charge): 1840.
  • No. of Colored persons who were deaf, dumb, and blind: 1840.
  • No. of Colored persons who were insane and idiots (at public and private charge): 1840.
  • Is person deaf, dumb, blind, insane, idiotic, pauper, or convict? 1850-1870
  • Blind? Deaf and dumb? Idiotic? Insane? Maimed, crippled, bedridden, or otherwise disabled? 1880.
  • Blind in both eyes? Deaf and dumb? 1910.

Address and neighborhood. 1800-1940.

  • County, parish, town, or city in which each family resided: 1800-1840.
  • Number of dwelling house (in order visited): 1850-1930.
  • Number of family (in order visited): 1850-1940.
  • Street and house number: 1920-1940.
  • In what place did the person live on April 1, 1935? 1940.
    • City, town, or village.
    • County.
    • State or territory.
    • Was the house a farm?

Education. 1840-1940.

Ability to read & write
  • No. of White persons age 20 years and older who could not read and write: 1840.
  • If over 20, can person read & write: 1850-1860.
  • Can person not read? Can person not write? 1870-1880.
  • Can person read? Can person write? 1900-1930.
School attendance
  • No.of colleges or universities, primary schools, and grammar schools: 1840.
    • No. of students or scholars associated with each institution: 1840.
    • No. of scholars at public charge: 1840.
  • At school within the past year? 1850-1880.
  • Months at school in the past year? 1900.
  • Attended school any time since a given date? 1910-1930.
  • Attended school or college any time within the past year? Highest grade completed. 1940.
English speaking

Can person speak English? 1900-1930.

Employment. 1840-1940.

Occupation and industry
  • No. of persons (including slaves) engaged in agriculture, commerce, and manufacture: 1820.
  • No. of persons in each family employed in mining; agriculture; commerce; manufacture and trade; navigation of the ocean; navigation of canals, lakes and rivers; and learned professional engineer: 1840.
  • Profession, occupation, or trade: 1850-1940.
  • General nature of the  industry, business, or establishment in which this person works: 1910-1940
Type of worker
  • Is the person an employer, employee, or working on his own account? 1910-1920.
  • Class of worker: 1930-1940.
Unemployment status
  • Months employed in the last (year/census year): 1880-1900
  • Was, on the day of the enumerator’s visit, the person sick or disabled so as to be unable to attend to ordinary business or duties? 1880.
  • If person is an employee, was he out of work on April 15, 1910? 1910
  • If person is an employee, what is the number of weeks he was out of work in 1909? 1910.
  • Is person actually at work? 1930.
  • Record line number for unemployed (see Census of Unemployment): 1930.
1940 census. For persons 14 years and older (Numbers refer to census question numbers.)

(21) Was the person at work for pay or profit in private or nonemergency government work during the week of March 24 - 30?

(22) If not, was he at work on, or assigned to, public emergency work (WPA, NYA, CCC, etc.) during the week of March 24 - 30?

(23) If the person was neither at work or assigned public emergency work: was this person seeking work?

(24) If not seeking work, did he have a job or business?

(25) For persons answering “No” to questions 21, 22, 23, and 24; indicate whether engaged in home housework (H), in school (S), unable to work (U), or Other (Ot).

(26) If the person was at work in private or non emergency government employment: how many hours did he work in the week of March 24 - 30?

(27) If the person was seeking work or assigned to non public emergency work: what was the duration, in weeks, of his unemployment?

(31) Number of weeks worked in 1939 (or equivalent of full time weeks).

(32) Amount of money, wages, or salary received (including commissions).

(33) Did this person receive income of more than $50 from sources other than money wages or salary?

Home ownership. 1850-1870; 1900-1940.

  • Value of real estate: 1850-1870.
  • Value of personal estate: 1860-1870
  • Is home owned or rented? 1900-1940.
  • If owned, is it owned freely or mortgaged? 1900-1920.
  • Value of the home, if owned, or monthly rental, if rented: 1930-1940.
Farm residents
  • Does the person live in a farm or in a house? 1900-1910.
  • Does this family live on a farm? 1930-1940.
  • Number of farm schedule. 1900-1940.

Immigration, citizenship, and naturalization. 1850-1940.

Place of birth: 1850-1940.

Parentage
  • Is father of foreign birth? 1870.
  • Father’s place of birth: 1880-1930.
  • Is mother of foreign birth? 1870
  • Mother’s place of birth: 1880-1930.
Language
  • Mother tongue: 1920.
  • Father’s mother tongue: 1920.
  • Mother’s mother tongue: 1920.
  • Language spoken at home before coming to the United States: 1930.
  • Can the person speak English? 1900-1930
  • If not, what language does the person speak? 1910.
Immigration
  • Year of immigration into the United States: 1900-1930.
  • How many years has the person been in the United States? 1900.
Citizenship
  • Is the person a male citizen of the United States 21 years or upwards?  1870
  • Is the person a male citizen of the United States 21 years or upwards whose right to vote is denied or abridged on grounds other than “rebellion or other crime?”  1870
Naturalization
  • No. of foreigners not naturalized: 1820.
  • No. of White persons who were foreigners not naturalized: 1830.
  • Is the person naturalized? 1900
  • Is the person naturalized or an alien? 1910-1930.
  • If foreign born, is the person a citizen? 1940.
  • If naturalized, what is the year of naturalization? 1920.

Military service and veteran status. 1840; 1910; 1930.

  • Name and age of pensioners for Revolutionary or military service: 1840.
  • Is the person a survivor of the Union or Confederate Army or Navy? 1910.
  • Whether the person is a veteran of the U.S. military or naval forces mobilized by any war or expedition? 1930.
  • If yes, which war or expedition? 1930.
Codes to use (1930)
  • WW = World War I
  • Sp = Spanish-American War
  • Civ = Civil War
  • Phil = Philippine Insurrection
  • Box = Boxer Rebellion
  • Mex = Mexican Expedition

Native Americans. 1900-1910; 1930.

See American Indians in the Federal Decennial Census, 1790-1930, for details on enumeration of Native Americans in the population schedules.  

Special Inquiries Relating to Indians (Appended to Twelfth and Thirteenth Censuses): A Partial List
Nature of Question Notes
Tribe Tribe of person, tribe of father, tribe of mother: 1900-1910.
Lineage Lineage and heritage as to American Indian, White, and/or Black : 1900-1910; 1930.
Marriage Touches on number of marriages and polygamy: 1900-1910.
Education Name of educational institution from which graduated: 1910.
Citizenship and Land Ownership Citizenship, acquisition of land, and type of housing: 1900-1910.

 

Race. 1850 - 1940.

Racial Codes Used in the United States Census, 1850-1940
Census Year Code
1850 Blank = White; B = Black; M = Mulatto
1860 W = White; B = Black; M = Mulatto
1870 W = White; B = Black; M = Mulatto; C = Chinese (i.e., all east Asians); I = American Indian
1880 W = White; B = Black; M = Mulatto; C = Chinese (i.e., all east Asians); I = American Indian
1900 W = White; B = Black; Ch = Chinese; Jp = Japanese; In = American Indian
1910 W = White; B = Black; Mu = Mulatto; Ch = Chinese; Jp = Japanese; In = American Indian; Ot = Other races.
1920 W = White; B = Black; Mu = Mulatto; Ch = Chinese; Jp = Japanese; In = American Indian; Ot = Other races.
1930 W = White; Neg = Black; Mex = Mexican; In = American Indian; Ch = Chinese; Jp = Japanese; Fil = Filipino; Hin = Hindu; Kor = Korean. All other races to be written out in full.
1940 W = White; Neg = Black; In = American Indian; Chi = Chinese; Jp = Japanese; Fil = Filipino; Hin = Hindu; Kor = Korean. All other races, spell out in full. 

Slavery. 1790-1860.

  • Number of slaves: 1790-1810.
  • Number of male and female slaves, respectively (by age breakdown): 1820.
  • Number of slaves and free colored persons of each sex, respectively (by age breakdown): 1830, 1840.
Slave schedules: 1850-1860.
  • Name of owner
  • Name of slave
  • Age
  • Sex
  • Color
  • No. of uncaught escaped slaves in the past year
  • No. slaves freed from bondage.
  • Is slave deaf, dumb, blind, insane, or idiotic?
Where is the 1890 Census?

Blake, Kellee. "First in the Path of the Firemen." Prologue Magazine 28 (1) (Spring 1996). Online.

Read More About It!

Anderson, Margo J. The American Census: A Social History. (2nd ed.). New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015. Find in a Library.

Petro, Diane. "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" Prologue Magazine 44 (1) (Spring 2012). Online.

Wines, Michael. "The Long History of the U.S. Government Asking Americans If They Are Citizens." New York Times, July 12, 2019. Online.

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