The 1920 census started on January 1, 1920. Areas with populations over 2,500 had two weeks in which to complete the enumeration. Other areas were given thirty days for completion. Most genealogical experts suggest that the 1920 census is the best place to begin genealogy research because most people can trace their family history back to at least 1920. The 1920 census is full of information that can help researchers to trace their family roots even further.
The 1920 census was quite detailed, listing the usual age, sex, ethnicity and relationship questions covered in previous censuses, but also listing street or road names, house numbers and more. It also included immigration status, schooling information, parent birthplaces and mother tongues, and type of work (including salary, wage or own account/now known as freelance work).
Unique Features of the 1920 Census
New Areas Covered – The 1920 census did not list military service, duration of marriage or number of children, as the 1910 census had. However, it did contain some interesting new information. For example, it was the first US census to include American Samoa, the Panama Canal Zone and Guam. It’s also worth noting that the 1920 census has a microfilmed index for every territory and state that it covered. Indians on reservations at the time were recorded as part of the general population, not on separate schedules.
Institutional and Military Records – The Soundex index for the 1920 census lists institutions at the end of the Soundex and at the end of the enumeration section. Also, the Soundex index does include an index for overseas naval and military forces. Servicemen were to be listed as members of their duty posts, not in their family’s enumerations.
Historical Considerations of the 1920 Census
Click to View Sample from US 1920 Census of Cleburne County, AL
Detailed Immigration Information – By 1920, a growing volume of the U.S. population had recently immigrated. One of the most genealogically useful things about the 1920 census is that it asks for detailed immigration information. For instance, it asks for the year that each immigrant arrived in the United States. It also asks for the year of naturalization, where applicable. This makes it very easy to research naturalization records for that time.
Women as Head of Household – The 1920 census lists many of women as the heads of their households, rather than listing the men as heads of their household. Therefore, when you are researching using the census, you may find it useful to look for female names.
World War I – During World War I, certain boundaries were modified. Therefore, enumerators of 1920 asked more specific questions about those whose origins were in Austria-Hungary, Russia, Germany, or Turkey. Some even asked specific questions about town of origin for those born in other countries. The information and the way in which it was recorded varied somewhat between enumerators.
By order of the Eighty-Third Congress, all of the original 1920 census schedules were destroyed. Therefore, you must consult the actual microfilm in order to do genealogy research based on the 1920 census. You can also visit the following resources for additional information: