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).
1920 Census Facts
1920 Census Number: 106,021,537
1920 Census Day: January 1, 1920
1920 Census duration: 1 month
1920 Census States: 48 States
1920 Census Territories: Alaska, Hawaii, American Samoa, the Canal Zone, Guam, Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands
Click to View Sample from US 1920 Census of Cleburne County, AL
Some of the questions answered by the 1920 census included:
Place of residence
Name of each person at residence
Relationship of each person to head of household
Owned or rented
Value of home or monthly rental
Does family own a farm
Color or race
Age at last birth
Age at first marriage
Attended school or college in the last year
Whether able to read or write
Place of Birth
Each person and his or her parents birthplace
If United States give State or Territory
If foreign birth give country in which birthplace is now situated
Native language of foreign born
Year of immigration into the United States
Ability to speak English
Occupation & Industry
Trade or profession, type of work done
Industry or business
Class of worker
The 1920 Census was begun on 1 January 1920.
The actual date of the enumeration appears on the heading of each page of the census schedule, but all responses were to reflect the individual's status as of 1 January, even if the status had changed between 1 January and the day of enumeration.
For example, children born between 1 January and the day of enumeration were not to be listed, while individuals alive on 1 January but deceased when the enumerator arrived were to be counted.
1920 Census Resources
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 may find the following resources helpful in your research of the 1920 census.
The date change for the 1920 census was requested by the Department of Agriculture. The department believed that in January, harvests would be completed and information about those harvests would still be fresh in farmers' minds.
Additionally, it argued that more people would be at home in January than in April.
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
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.
Interesting facts about the 1920 census
William H Taft is President during the 1920 census.
The U.S. population increased by 15 percent from the 1910 census to the 1920 census.
It took roughly $25,117,000 and 87,234 enumerators to complete the 1920 US census
Historical events surrounding the 1920 US Census
January 16, 1919 - The 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified banning the manufacture and sale of “intoxicating liquors.”
1920 - American Professional Football League is formed.
August 18, 1920 - The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is ratified allowing women the right to vote.
November, 1920 - Warren G Harding wins the Presidential election in a landslide. Was the first presidential election in which women had the right to vote.
1922 - The American Professional Football League changed its name to the National Football League.
1925 - F. Scott Fitzgerald published The Great Gatsby.
1925 - The first collection of stories by A.A. Milne featuring Winnie-the-Pooh was published.
1927 - The Jazz age peaks with the selling of 100 million phonograph records.