1930 Census: My First Look
By Melody Lassalle
And the Journey Begins!
Last month, I decided to get my first taste of the 1930 census. I hoped to answer many questions about my relatives and to fill in some blanks. Since I was using an online source, the Hawaii records were not available. So, I did the next best thing and started with Oakland, California. This is where many of my relatives resettled after completing their labor contracts on Hawaiian Sugar Plantations.
Figuring Out Where to Start
One of the drawbacks of the 1930 census is that there is no index for California or Hawaii. A couple of states were indexed, but when the WPA was disbanded in the early 1940s, so ended the soundexing projects. With no indexes, it is imperative that you know where your ancestors lived. In the larger cities, that means street address not just city name. With Oakland spreading through multiple enumeration districts, I would have to pinpoint the exact location or waste many months in the wrong part of town. Since I knew exactly where my relatives lived, my job was easier.
Each city consists of one or many enumeration districts. Although there are descriptions of each enumeration district, these descriptions do not lists all the streets involved. Rather, they cover the boundaries of that district. Long streets can span more than one district. By comparing the descriptions to a map of a city, it is possible to determine which streets they may contain. Since I knew most of my relatives lived on or near E. 25th street, I only had to go through three enumeration districts before I hit a neighborhood full of Pacheco's!
What to Expect on the Census Sheets
If you've worked with earlier census sheets, you know that they not only strain the eyes but also the patience of the person trying to decipher names under ink blots, blurred pages, and other abnormalities. From what I experienced, these sheets are in excellent condition. The handwriting was neat and readable in most cases (a definite plus!). Also, the quality of the sheets was superior to earlier censuses. Hopefully, Hawaii was done in the same way!
Each census asks questions in it's own unique way. 1930 is no exception. You have your typical name, age on last birthday, birthplace, marital status, year of immigration, and whether naturalized fields. With some questions, the wording is important. Instead of asking how many years a person was married, this census asks how old they were when "first married". This does not mean to the current spouse. It means the first time the person was married. Another question asks what language was spoken at home before coming to the United States. Technically, Hawaii was a territory of the United States by the time the census was taken. Sometimes this question was asked and sometimes not of the Portuguese Hawaiians.
There are questions where a researcher should be wary. The birthplace information can be a problem. While state or country was the information requested, it wasn't always recorded as such. Some born in the United States are only listed as "United States". Sometimes Azores and Madeira was given, other times Portugal. It seems that the enumerator's discretion was at play. Be extra careful with the Portuguese born in Hawaii. A declaration of Honolulu as birth place does not necessarily mean the person was born in Honolulu! I have found several people which I have birth certificates for who stated they were born in Honolulu. I know these individuals were born on Kauai. And, my guess is that many of them never saw Honolulu except for when they left for California!
Also, watch yourself where immigration years are concerned. The sheets I reviewed were inconsistent when it came to the Portuguese Hawaiians. In some cases, the year recorded was the year the person came from Portugal to Hawaii. In other cases, it was the year they came from Hawaii to California. There were many cases where no date was recorded at all.
Learning About Their Life
There are two new fields which provide a little background information into your relatives' lives. The first one is whether they owned a radio set--the latest in modern technology. This may seem a silly question to ask on the all important census. Ownership of a radio set proves that they had electricity.
The second one pertains to home ownership. First, we learn if they owned or rented at the time of the census. Second, we learn what the value of the home was or how much they paid in monthly rent. Imagine this: In 1930, monthly rent in Oakland ranged from $8 to $25! No, I didn't forget any digits! The value of many homes fell into the $1500 to $3000 range. You'd have to add a couple of zeroes to the end of those numbers to buy houses in the same areas today.
It's interesting to note that more women were employed in 1930. Is this a case of changing times? Possibly. It may also mean that families were feeling the affects of the depression. When unemployment came to America, it was not selective. Families brought in money whatever way they could. The women would have to bring in a paycheck just the same as the men to ward off starvation and homelessness. This may mean working in domestic jobs or in an office. In any case, it was probably a necessity for most families.
So, that's my first glimpse of the 1930 census. Keep your fingers crossed that Hawaii proves just as easy to read! Of course, with any research, as each question is answered, more pop up!
© 2002 Melody Lassalle