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Ancestry Daily News
  Michael John Neill  10/6/2004


A 1930 Census Project for Kids

My daughter had to do a family tree display for her 4-H project. Tired of run of the mill family trees and pedigree charts, we decided not to create a display of the names of 4,000 relatives. We chose to concentrate on eight ancestors instead of 1,024. Her project (or was it mine?) would focus on locating her eight great-grandparents in the 1930 census. The specific nature of our project would allow us to dig a little deeper and include information other than just names and dates in our project.

We could do more than simply list each great-grandparent's age. After all, the 1930 census provides significantly more insight into a family's life than the mere age of each household member. The desired individuals had already been located in the 1930 census, so her actual searching would not be too difficult.

Let the Child Search
Allowing the child to make the finds themselves is part of the work and part of the fun. It also gives the child some confidence in the process. My daughter was going to perform the searches herself and print out the located census entry for each relative.

However, her tolerance for difficult-to-locate ancestors would be short, so I gave her some guidance when conducting her searches. Before my daughter searched the census, I searched for each entry and made notes as to what search strategy was most effective for each ancestor. This way my daughter's searching would not take an inordinate amount of time and neither of us would run out of patience before the project had even begun. Age-appropriate comments about handwriting and spelling errors were made when necessary and when applicable to the search at hand.

Kids Need Organization Too
I created a sheet for each ancestor, so my daughter could abstract specific census information as each entry was located. The form asked a few simple questions that served several purposes.

Some questions revolved around the location of the census entry, state, county, town (or township), address (if given), district, and page number. These questions served two purposes: One was to assist us later in the geographic aspect of our project. The other was to make a point about keeping track of where we find things.

Our discussion about documentation and citation was not lengthy, but specific and to the point. For our purposes, it was sufficient to say that the census was taken in books based on where people lived. If we kept track of where the entry was located we could easily find it again without having to search all over again.

The remaining questions revolved around the census entry itself and included the name, age, place of birth, and occupation (if applicable) of the located individual. We also noted whether the family had a radio. (Note: The form we used can be downloaded here: www.rootdig.com/1930kids/)

Picture the Location
Maps were an integral part of our project. Visualizing where family members lived is an important analytical tool for genealogists, regardless of age. Our eight relatives were spread out over the northern half of Illinois and were living in the following locations:
- Bear Creek, Prairie, and St. Albans Townships in Hancock County, Illinois
- Keene Township in Adams County, Illinois.
- 1528 4th Ave., Rock Island, Illinois
- 1207 19th St., Rock Island, Illinois
- 542 Forest Ave., Glen Ellyn, Illinois
- 221 E 115th St., Chicago, Illinois

We started with a map of the state of Illinois. Our families have not moved too much in the last seventy-five years. Others may need to start with a map of the United States or of the entire world.

While the state map provided a nice overview of our locations, we realized that it did not show adequate detail and decided to also include maps more narrow in scope so that the precise locations could be shown.

For the rural ancestors, we printed out township maps of the counties involved and indicated on those maps who was living in what township. We were fortunate that the county USGenWeb site (www.usgenweb.org) and searches on Google (www.google.com) easily located township maps for the counties involved.

For those urban dwellers, we used Mapquest (www.mapquest.com) to print out street maps showing the location of each address. Before this was done, I made certain that there had been no street renamings or house renumberings since 1930 (these determinations can be made by visiting the appropriate county or city USGenWeb page or posting the question to the county or city mailing list via lists.rootsweb.com).

Can We Have More Detail for Those Rural People?
After mapping out the specific urban addresses, my daughter wondered why we were not as precise with the other four ancestors (the ones living on farms whose residences are only given down to the township level). I told her that in the 1930 census, street addresses were not usually given for rural dwellers as knowing their precise residence would require additional work. We would have to use other records besides the census (such as plat maps, deeds, and other records). In our case, I knew where the four rural ancestors lived, so we could mark the locations more precisely. (Note: Those whose ancestors were renters or tenant farmers will have more difficulty pinpointing the location if is not known what farm or house the family rented.)

What About Other Migrations?
An additional project might have been to map out the family's migration from 1930 until the present. My own families all ended up in central Hancock County, Illinois, where I was born. My wife's families ended up in Rock Island County, Illinois, where she was born. A map showing as many moves as possible would have been a nice visual addition to this project or even a separate project in and of itself.

What Were They Doing in 1930?
Three of our people were too young to have a job in 1930. For those that were employed, we listed their employment:
- Farm laborer on a farm, working for father
- Servant on a farm, working for a neighbor
- Pinsetter in a bowling alley
- Worker for sewer department
- Clerk in a drugstore

While in our report we simply listed the occupation, we could have learned more about these jobs and written brief descriptions (or even included clip art depicting the work if possible). Some jobs are fairly self-explanatory. Some are not. We had a difficult time reading the “pinsetter” occupation on the actual census, and it was difficult for one of us to imagine a time when people, instead of machines, actually set the pins back up!

Did They Have a Radio?
Half of our families had radios and half did not. From eight families it is hard to extract any general tendencies, although for my side of the project (the rural side) the only family with a radio was one that was “better set” than the other three. On my wife's side (the city side) the only family without a radio was the one that most likely had the greatest difficulty making ends meet (not that any of them were well-heeled). We concluded that in our families it appeared that rural families were less likely to have radios. However, we made the point that eight households out of millions is NOT a representative sample. (We even snuck in a few statistics, too!)

There were several things we did as a part of this project:
- Performed searches, providing us with time to discuss spelling (and sounds) and handwriting (especially sloppy handwriting).
- Cited our sources, discussing the importance of knowing where we obtained information and why sometimes we need to be able to go back to it again.
- Used maps to visualize where people lived and determine their relative proximity to each other.
- Discussed the differences in occupations between our rural and city dwellers.

We (rather, I) tried to avoid making this a project of the parent. It was necessary for the author to remember that this presentation was not for a speech at a genealogy conference. However, all the discussion and preparation caused me to think of some things I had not noticed when locating these entries a few years ago. If there's a school activity or assignment where this type of project might be appropriate, consider doing it with your child, grandchild, niece, or nephew. You might learn just as much as they do during the process.

Additional References
Here are a few related articles from "Beyond the Index:"

"My 1930 Census Experiences"

"1930 Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous"
(Contains search suggestions for the 1930 census)

While the following two are about the 1920 census in particular, the search methods are similar for 1930, except that the 1930 census index at Ancestry.com is an every-name index and the 1920 census index is not.

"Finding My 1920 People, Part I"

"1920 Census, Part II: Michael Locates His People"


Michael John Neill is the Course I Coordinator at the Genealogical Institute of Mid America (GIMA) held annually in Springfield, Illinois, and is also on the faculty of Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg, Illinois. Michael is the Web columnist for the FGS FORUM and is on the editorial board of the Illinois State Genealogical Society Quarterly. He conducts seminars and lectures on a wide variety of genealogical and computer topics and contributes to several genealogical publications, including Ancestry Magazine and Genealogical Computing. You can e-mail him at mjnrootdig@myfamily.com or visit his website at www.rootdig.com/, but he regrets that he is unable to assist with personal research.

Copyright 2004, MyFamily.com.


Used by the author on his website with permission.

Michael's other genealogy Articles