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Genealogists, historians to line up for release of 1930 census

Monday, April 1, 2002

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- You might think the 1930 census was a new "Star Wars" movie, judging by the lines, and hoopla, surrounding its release today.

The Kansas City office of the National Archives planned to open at 12:01 a.m. today for the release.

Statistics from each census typically are released a year after the tally. Federal regulations put in place in 1952 required that personal details collected in each census be kept confidential for 72 years.

That makes each release a shot of adrenaline for genealogists and family historians.

"We've never tried a midnight opening before," said Diana Duff, the branch's director of archival operations.

Big crowds showed up in 1992 at the branch for the release of the 1920 census. Even bigger crowds were on hand in 1982 for the 1910 count.

The reason? "Roots."

The television miniseries based on Alex Haley's best selling book sparked a renaissance in family history in the late 1970s. In 1982, that meant long lines for opening day at the Archives.

"We had a waiting list for the microfilm readers," Duff said.

Microfilm tickets

This time, the National Archives headquarters in Washington is bracing for a similar crowd. After a brief ceremony with U.S. Archivist John Carlin, staff members will hand out tickets allowing users to reserve microfilm readers in three-hour blocks.

Thirteen regional National Archives branches were allowed to establish their own policies. Kansas City is one of three branches planning to open at 12:01 a.m. Monday. It won't close until the usual time that day, at 4 p.m.

"We want to publicize the 1930 census and also make people more aware of the National Archives branch here," Duff said.

The rise of the Internet and the growth of Web sites such as Ancestry.com have increased the availability of genealogical information. Ancestry.com pledges to have digitized images of the census online within hours of its release.

But the National Archives' Kansas City branch promised access to it all, as well as coffee and doughnuts, and help from several genealogical volunteers.

The count was taken April 1, 1930, just over five months after the October 1929 stock market crash that plunged the country into depression. One question asked whether someone had worked the previous day; another asked what "class of worker" people were.

Questions new to the 1930 census included whether a household had a radio set, as well as the value of the home or the monthly apartment rent.

"Those taking the census were supposed to assure persons that this information was not to be used for taxation purposes," said Janice Schultz, genealogy librarian at the Genealogy and Family History Branch of the Mid-Continent Public Library.

Little indexed material

The 1930 census will be a challenge for novice family historians. Only 10 of the 48 states that existed in 1930 have indexed all of their material. Neither Kansas nor Missouri is among them.

But there is hope: The Kansas City branch of the Archives has a collection of finding aids, such as enumeration district maps and city directories, which help guide researchers to the proper microfilm reel.

Other area libraries specializing in family history must wait for the census to arrive from the National Archives, which will begin shipment Monday.

Staff members at the Genealogy and Family History Branch in Independence are typing labels for the expected 2,667 microfilm reels containing the population schedules, or the long pages filled out by census-takers.

They hope to have the entire 1930 census available by the end of April, Schultz said.


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