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Ask Ancestry Anne: How Do I Decipher Census Columns?

Question: What do the numbers in column 30 in the 1910 census mean?  I have many relatives with different numbers in this column

— Jackie

Answer: Column 30 specifies whether the person owns (O) or rents (R) a home.  But I suspect that you are referring to numbers such as the ones written in on the right hand side. They look as if they are written in a different handwriting than the census itself and they don’t appear in every column.

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A little research led me to Census Tick Marks and Codes – Revisited Yet Again! by Elizabeth Shown Mills where she discusses similar numbers on the 1900 census.  Some analysis led her to the number there, so let’s try it here.

Given that the codes do not appear on lines with no occupations, I hypothesize that they are occupation codes. We can create a chart to compare them easily.

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You’ll notice that both Cooks have the code: 14-0-7-X and that the last three nurses are 1-5-6-X.  However, the first nurse is 9-5-6-X.  Am I wrong or did someone write this down wrong?

If you check other pages and the same occupation/industry pair you see the same codes. 


Now this doesn’t add anything new to your knowledge of your ancestor, but it does give you a place to start if you can’t read the handwriting.  Look for the same code, and maybe you can decipher the occupation that way. And nice job of looking at the columns on the census and every little detail!

While we’re looking at details, you may have also noticed that we have indexed a few more columns on the 1940 census, including marital status, street, occupation, industry, whether the house was owned or rented, and highest grade completed.

If I enter “Lexington, Rockbridge, Virginia” for Lived In and “Houston Street” for Street and mark both exact, I can see everyone who lived on the same street as my great grandparents in 1940. This can help you locate other relatives and who lived around them.

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I know my grandfather was a rug weaver in a carpet mill in 1940. If I put in the exact location and “Weaver” and mark it exact, I get a list of everyone in that town who was a Weaver.  I suspect these are the people he worked with and knew. 

The details are always important!

Happy Searching!

— Ancestry Anne

Ask Ancestry Anne: Search Tip #18 - Read the Search Form

Sometimes it is best to start searching form the search form for a specific data collection.  The form tells you what has been indexed which is critical in understanding what to enter.

 Take for example the US Federal Census 1850 search form:

Relationships are indexed, because they are explicitly stated, so you can’t use that as a search strategy.

On a census form, if you enter a county and stage from our type ahead for places and then choose exact, you will limit all of your searches to that county.  Or you can choose adjacent county if you are not finding who you are looking for.

Also, you can set other fields to exact to limit your searches as well.  By looking at the form, you understand what is actually indexed and this will help you choose what is appropriate to use as parameters in your search.

Next tip: Search Tip #19: First or Last Name Searches  or review the previous tip: Search Tip #17: Search from Your Tree

Happy Searching!

Ancestry Anne