Family Tree Friday: 1940 Census – Following the instructions (of the enumerators!)
This week’s blog post comes once again from guest blogger Diane Petro, Archives Technician in the Research Support Branch at the National Archives Building in Washington, DC. Diane is working on reference activities relating to the upcoming 1940 census release.
Researchers often go to the Instructions to the Enumerator when trying to interpret a question on the census. But what did census enumerators do when they had a question? The unidentified enumerator in the photo appears to be listening carefully to Tyrone Power’s answers. But did every enumerator follow the instructions? At the end of the canvas for the 1940 census, the Bureau of the Census sent a confidential questionnaire to a sampling to 115,433 enumerators, and 16,025 of them sent back completed questionnaires.
The following table is from: Records of the Bureau of the Census (RG 29), NN369-58 Entry P-26 Box 4: Scrapbook pertaining to the 1940 Census of Houseing, 1940-1948. (Historical report of 1940 Census Volume 4 to Forms HC-327 to HC-359 No Volume #. File-16th Decennial Census 1940 Historical report of 1940 Census, Volume 4.)
Table XIII: Miscellaneous Questions Asked Enumerators and Their Replies
In enumerating on the Population schedule, did you:
- Write directly in ink and turn the schedule in without copying any of them? (5,244 Answered Yes)
- After copying some of them? (9,463 Answered Yes)
- After copying most all of them? (272 Answered Yes)
Or did you enumerate in pencil and later go over your work:
- In ink on the same sheet? (388 Answered Yes)
- Copy in ink on another sheet? (163 Answered Yes)
- Did not answer the questions? (495 Answered Yes)
Did you read the entire set of Instructions before you began to enumerate?
- (12,256 Answered Yes)
- (857 Answered No)
- (2,912 No Answer)
Did you usually look up the instructions immediately? (14,946 Answered Yes)
Use your best judgment without looking up instructions? (785 Answered Yes; 294 No Answer)
When you found after you left a Household that you had not filled in all answers to all questions that should have been answered, did you ordinarily:
- Call back to get the correct information? (14,799 Answered Yes)
- Enter what you thought the answer would have been? (465 Answered Yes; 761 No Answer)
This survey shows that while most enumerators did follow instructions set forth by the Census Bureau, a few of them were not so careful. When you are searching through the census records and come across inconsistencies, keep this in mind.