- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 31, 2002

The U.S. Census Bureau tomorrow will release what it calls a "genealogy treasure": the handwritten forms from each American household that participated in the 1930 Census.
The forms have been protected for 72 years as part of the confidentiality requirements of the federal law under which the census is taken.
Crowds are expected to gather at the National Archives, 700 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, and at 13 regional Archives sites, where the population data will be released on microfilm. The national headquarters of the Archives will open at 8:45 a.m. tomorrow, but some regional sites were scheduled to open soon after midnight tonight.
"We expect large crowds, so there will be a three-hour limit on the use of microfilm readers," callers to the National Archives in Washington heard Friday in a recorded message.
Like the official population count, the release of enumerators' census forms occurs just once every 10 years. The Census Bureau notes that it's an occasion of much interest to genealogy buffs eager to learn more about their family history.
When the census disclosure law passed in 1952, the average life span was 68 years. Today, the average life expectancy is 73 years.
There is particular interest in responses to the 1930 Census, because they were given at the start of the Great Depression. Enumerators began knocking on doors on April 1 that year, just five months after the 1929 stock market collapse.
The 1930 Census counted a population of just under 123 million, about 44 percent of the 281 million counted in the 2000 Census. The nation was far more agrarian in 1930 than it is today. Back then, one in five families lived on a farm.
The Census Bureau stopped seeking farm population data in 1991, when 4.6 million people lived on farms. They represented less than 2 percent of the total U.S. population, 252.6 million in 1991.
The forms now available for public viewing include 32 questions on issues, including "marital condition," employment, literacy, military service, national origin and which language respondents spoke "at home before coming to the United States."
Until the most recent census, 1930 was the last time the national population survey put the nation's population at more than 10 percent foreign-born.
The 1930 Census was the first one that asked Americans if they owned a "radio set."
Questions about family income were not included, but people were asked if they owned or rented their home.
Records on race were far less detailed than they are today. People were asked their "color or race," but census-takers were told to write "white" if "the person is regarded as white in the community," genealogist Kathleen Hinckley told the Associated Press.
According to a National Archives recorded message, part of the 1930 Census records are indexed using the Soundex coding system that allows people to search for a last name by sound rather than spelling. But that system has been used only for Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and parts of Kentucky and West Virginia.
Census researchers seeking data about people who lived in "non-indexed states" were warned they probably will have more difficulty finding them, especially if they do not know where in a state a person lived.


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