Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Census Questions - 1850 to 2000

I saw a link to the Integrated Public Use Microdata Series (IPUMS) web site that has links to all of the questions asked on each of the Federal Census from 1850 to 2000. The links to the forms and questions are on

The page says:

"This section contains facsimile copies of the enumeration forms used in the decennial census of the United States from 1860 through 2000, and the 2000-2005 American Community Survey. Most of the forms are contained in Bureau of the Census, 200 Years of U.S. Census Taking: Population and Housing Questions, 1790-1990. While the facsimilies convey the physical layout of the documents used to enumerate the population, they are not always clear enough to actually read the questions. For this reason, we have also included text of the questions. Enumerator instructions for the early years – beginning with 1850 -- and general instructions included with the self-enumeration forms in the later years are also reproduced here."

We are all familiar with what appears on the census forms from 1790 to 1930. What about the years that are not available online yet?

In the 1940 census, they were asked "where did you live on April 1, 1935?" There were several questions about employment. Two persons on each census page were asked "Does this person have a Federal Social Security Number?" and "Are you or have you been a member of the Armed Forces?" Women were asked if they had been married more than once, age at first marriage and number of live births.

In the 1950 census, 1 out of every 5 people was asked about income and other income, and if it was a head of household, then they were asked how much the entire family earned. The last person on each page (line 30) had to answer additional questions about marital status and employment.

In the 1960 census, the form was mailed to households and then the enumerator visited the household to pick up the form and check more boxes on the form about housing and house contents. They asked every person about education, employment, and income - each with several sub-questions.

For each house, they asked "Do you have any television sets?" The question is qualified: "Count only sets in working order. Count floor, table, and portable television sets as well as combinations." Available answers are: "1 set", "2 sets or more", or "No television sets".

They also asked about a variety of items and services in 1960: fuels used for heating, clothes washer, clothes dryer, televisions, radios, air conditioning, food freezer (separate from refrigerator), number of bathrooms, source of water, source of sewer, telephones, and automobiles.

Obviously, we have to wait a while to see what our families wrote down in response to these questions. I can hardly wait for the 1940 census to be available so I can see how my grandparents and great-grandparents responded.

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