To enumerate means to mention items by naming them one by one, just like you would do when you count out loud.  However, enumeration has to do with more than just coming up with a total count.  It means that you identify each item by naming it specifically, as in a list.

It is this concept that is behind the term “Enumeration District” when Federal census- takers are collecting of information.  A census lists each person in a household along with specific identifying information, such as race, gender, marital status, and occupation.  People who are employed by the federal government to collect information from each household are called Enumerators.  Therefore, the specific geographic area that is covered by one enumerator when taking a census is called an Enumeration District.

Enumeration District Maps

Enumeration districts can vary in size depending on the population of the area being covered.  Cities and other more densely populated areas will be divided into smaller districts than rural areas.  Some heavily populated areas can be divided into districts that only cover one block.

The boundaries of each district are outlined in an Enumeration Map, along with each district’s identifying number.  You can view the enumeration maps for the 1940 Census at National Archives Website.  Instructions are provided under item 3.

Studying Enumeration Districts

Enumeration districts can be significant to certain types of research, especially when the district boundaries are consistent over time.  The changes in population and demographics of a particular area can be studied by comparing data across several census schedules.

Using Enumeration Districts for Genealogy

Before indexes were readily available on the internet, enumeration districts were extremely important in narrowing the area that you would search for an ancestor.  Today, this research is much easier. However, sometimes a family member is not found in an online search, and you will need to page through each record of the enumeration district to discover records.  This could happen if the spelling of a family name changes over time.

Enumeration district maps can also be used to identify neighbors and to better understand the neighborhoods in which our ancestors lived.  For example, you can find out if the local population was of a particular cultural descent or working class. You can see if most of the households were young families or retired couples.  This kind of information can help you see your ancestors as part of a community rather than a name listed on a record.

Enumeration Districts have many purposes.  They provide efficiency of data collection and organization of records. Best of all, they offer a snapshot of community life preserved in history.