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Overheard in GenForum: Pennsylvania Census Help - Enumeration District vs. Township
by Rhonda R. McClure

Each week Rhonda answers a question from the GenForum message boards and gives her expert answer here. We'd love to hear anything you have to add. Go ahead and leave your comments on GenForum with the original message.

April 12, 2001
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Q: Does anyone know how to figure out which enumeration district corresponds with which township? I found an ancestor in the Miracode index with an enumeration district of 0161 in Montgomery County, PA, but the microfilm of the census lists by townships. How do I convert enumeration district #0161 to a township? Any info would be appreciated! -- Bonnie

A: First, for those who may be unsure of the census you are referring to, the 1910 census is the only census for which any states were indexed using the Miracode system. It is important to mention this as each census year the enumeration districts change.

The Miracode system used the Soundex code, but instead of having been filled out by hand, the Miracode was generated on computer. The information shared was similar to that on the Soundex cards, with one exception. The Miracode used the enumeration district and the visitation number as opposed to the sheet and line number found on the Soundex cards.

Enumeration districts vary from census to census.

The Census Page

By 1880, the population of the United States was so large that it often required more than one enumerator to canvas certain cities and counties. As a result, enumeration districts were established. Instead of being arranged alphabetically by town name or numerically by the page numbers stamped on the pages, census records from 1880 through 1920 (the last available census at this time) were arranged numerically by enumeration district number.

Your message indicates that Montgomery County is arranged by township. While the townships are listed on the page, you should find the enumeration district listed in the upper right hand corner of each census page.

The enumerator may not have filled out this particular field of each page of the census. However, it should be present on most of them.

An Alternative

There are times, though, when all we have is a town or a street address and we do not know what Enumeration District it falls into. When working in a small county this is not always an issue, but when researching in a large city, such as New York or Philadelphia, then you can't do a line-by-line search.

There are some often-overlooked aids that can be of use to you in this situation. For the 1880, 1900, 1910 and 1920 censuses, there are descriptions of the enumeration districts on microfilm. They are also sometimes referred to as Enumeration District Maps, though they do not actually have graphic maps as you might expect.

Instead each state is broken down by Supervisor's District and thereunder by Enumeration District. For each enumeration district there is a description followed by the county and then special instructions, if applicable. In some cases the population for the particular ED is also included.

In Conclusion

Census records are an excellent resource, but they are effective only when you can locate the correct page. Sometimes that isn't always as easy as it sounds, especially if the census is a new record type. Even with the soundex, the changes from census year to census year can also help to make locating your ancestor in the pages a bit more challenging.

See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at

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