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Overheard in GenForum: About the 1930 Census
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 18, 2002
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Q: How on earth do we get to the 1930 census everyone has been talking about? I know it's supposed to be on a government web site and I have no idea where to go. Can somebody help me? -- Keittaa

A: The release of the 1930 was, for many, something they thought would never arrive. Of course, I remember a similar feeling about ten years ago when we were all impatiently waiting for the release of the 1920 census.

Although the census is available to the public, it takes time for the records to get from the National Archives in Washington, DC to the various repositories that have purchased the microfilms. Then it takes some more time for the repositories to catalog, label, and store the thousands of microfilms.

While released, the 1930 may not yet be available.

The Official Release

To genealogists this year, the most significant day in April wasn't tax day, April 15, it was April 1. While April 1 is usually reserved for making fools of people, this year, it was the day the 1930 census was released. In fact, two of the National Archives branches aided genealogists with their obsession by opening just after midnight so that those who were so excited and couldn't wait any longer could begin to use the census records right away.

The media was on hand to interview these midnight researchers in an effort to understand the obsession that brought them out at such a ridiculous time of night to look for "dead people." While the researcher's answered their questions, I doubt if the reporters ever really understood the drive and excitement that was pushing the researchers.

While the National Archives in Washington, DC and its 13 branches all had the approximately 2,000 microfilms of the 1930 census on that fateful opening day, those of us who use the census microfilms at a public or genealogy library are still waiting. We may have to wait until some time in May to use these microfilms. Once the films make it to your local library, you can expect them to be among the most popular records around.


If you don't feel like waiting until May, you may want to plan a "1930 census research trip" to your local National Archives. You may be pleasantly surprised to find that the local branch really isn't that far away. Be sure to call the Archives branch ahead of time to see if you need a reservation or any special registration. The archive branches are located in Anchorage, Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Fort Worth, Kansas City, Laguna Niguel, New York City, Philadelphia, Pittsfield, San Francisco, and Seattle.

You could also call your local public library or other repository to see if they can approximate when they'll have the 1930 records available. I have heard of one library in Virginia that already has their small selection of microfilms (not the entire U.S.) catalogued and available to patrons.

In the Meantime

While you wait for the microfilms to arrive in your state or repository, you can begin to make preparations for your 1930 research. I would suggest you begin by working in city directories for those ancestors in larger cities. By locating them in the city directories and using the street descriptions in the city directories in conjunction with the enumeration district descriptions, you will already know where in the city, and therefore on the microfilm, your ancestor is.

Only 12 southern states that have been Soundexed for the 1930 census. That means that most of us will either have to go page by page, use city directories, or wait until a genealogical society or commercial entity creates an index in order to locate our ancestors in the 1930 census. In the meantime, we can be reading up on the 1930 census and what information it will tell us along with pinning down our ancestors in given cities or towns through the enumeration district finding aid that has been made available by the National Archives.

In Conclusion

Just as with the release of the 1920, while the long wait is over, there is still a little wait that most of us must endure before the films are available.

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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