Deciphering Language and Nativity Codes appended to the 1930 Census in One Step
Frequently Asked Questions

Stephen P. Morse , San Francisco

1. Where are the codes found on the 1930 Schedule?

If you look after column 21 on the 1930 Census form, you will see a column entitled "Code".  That column is further subdivided into "A", "B", and "C".  "A" is the State or M.T. (Mother Tongue) code, "B" is the Country code, and C is the Nativity code.  These codes are based on information in Columns 18 (birthplace of person), 19 (birthplace of father), and 20 (birthplace of mother) along with any language information placed in those columns.

For a better look at the column headings, click here or here or here or here.

2. When were these codes put on the form?

These codes were put on the census pages well after the enumeration was done, and therefore provide no additional information about information gotten during the actual enumeration process.  However, sometimes knowing the code can help you determine the information in the previous columns in cases where the quality of the microfilm is poor or the handwriting of the enumerator is difficult to read.  It's also of interest to see how the birth Country was determined in 1930 in areas of changing political boundaries.

3. Where did this information come from?

The information comes from a US Dept of Commerce, Bureau of the Census publication from 1930 entitled: Coding Instructions for the Population Schedule.  All the coding tables have been incorporated into our utility.

4. I notice that birth place or mother tongue appear to be written in a different handwriting.  Why is that?

If there were blanks on the original census form, the coding worker was instructed on how to fill in the missing information.  Here are some of the pertinent instructions found in the Coding Instruction book:

20. ... When the enumerator has neglected to write the State of birth for a native person it will sometimes be possible to determine what the State ought to be and write it in.  .... For example, if you are editing schedules for Alabama and find a person whose place of birth is not reported, but whose father and mother are reported as born in Alabama, you may enter Alabama as the place of birth of the person.

21. It will seldom be possible to supply the country of birth for a foreign-born person except where the country is reported for certain members of a family and not for others.  In such a case there may be indications on the schedule to the effect that all of the members of the family were born in the same foreign country, in which case the entries may be supplied.  Or if the mother tongue is given, and is one which clearly indicates country of birth, for example, Italian, the country of birth may be supplied.

22. In other cases where there are blanks in Column 18 it may be difficult to tell even whether the person is native or foreign born.  If you are editing schedules for New York, for example, and find a person whose birthplace is not reported in Column 18, but whose father and mother are shown as born in Germany, then you should look to see if there are any entries in Columns 22 and 23, which are to be filled only for the foreign born.  If so, you may assume that the person himself was also born in Germany.  If not, you should assume that he was born in the United States, and if there is nothing whatever to indicate the State, enter in Column 18 "US," which means "born in the United States, State not known."  If the indications on the schedule are to the effect that the person is foreign born, with no clew to the country of birth, enter in Column 18 "Un," meaning "Foreign born, country of birth not known."

26. Where the enumerator has returned "Canada" alone as country of birth first inspect the name, and if that is distinctively a French name complete the entry in Column 18, 19, or 20, making it "Canada-French."  If the name is not distinctively French, look at the mother tongue entry in Column 21 and make the same change if that is French.  If there is no evidence of French origin in either  Column 5 or Column 21, make the entry in Column 18, 19, or 20 "Canada-English."

27. There should be an entry in Column 21 for every white person reported in Column 18 as born in a foreign country.  If the mother tongue is omitted for any foreign-born white person it is not to be supplied, except where it is given for other members of the same family.  For a missing mother tongue that can not be supplied as just indicated enter "Un" for unknown.

5. Why are cities or Provinces shown for some foreign born people and not others?

The One Step Utility provides "added value" to your understanding of the codes.  Although the codes are based on what is on the Census sheets, the coding of the Census forms took into account the political/geographical realities of the day.

Note the following from the coding instruction book:

30. In most cases the country of birth will be clearly indicated by the enumerator's entry in Column 18.  For certain European countries, however, where there have been changes in the boundaries since the World War, the enumerator was instructed to enter the name of the city or Province as well as the name of the country.  Where this has been done the birthplace should be classified according to the name of the Province or city, usually disregarding the name of the country that accompanies it.  An "Alphabetical Index for Foreign Countries, Provinces, Cities, Etc.," is supplied, in which the proper code number is given for those Provinces or cities which have been transferred from country to another.  Where the name of the city or Province can not be found in the index it is presumably one that was not transferred.  In such cases the person should be coded as born in the country whose name is given in addition to the name of the Province or city.'

31. The index of places will also be useful in determing the proper code number for infrequently reported countries as well as for Provinces and cities.  It gives also the counties in the Irish Free State and in Northern Ireland which will be of assistance sometimes in distinguishing between these tow political subdivisions.

Also note the following instructions to enumerators taken from their 1930 book of instructions:
167. Since it is essential that each foreign-born person be credited to the country in which his birthplace is now located, special attention must be given to the six countries which lost a part of their territory in the readjustments following the World War. These six countries are as follows:
Austria, which lost territory to Czechoslovakia, Italy, Yugoslavia, Poland, and Rumania.
Hungary, which lost territory to Austria, Czechoslovakia, Italy, Poland, Rumania, and Yugoslavia.
Bulgaria, which lost territory to Greece and Yugoslavia.
Germany, which lost territory to Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Danzig, Denmark, France, Lithuania, and Poland.
Russia, which lost territory to Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Turkey.
Turkey, which lost territory to Greece, and Italy, and from which the following areas became independent: Iraq (Mesopotamia); Palestine (including Transjordan), Syria (including the Lebanon); and various States and Kingdoms in Arabia (Asir, Hejaz, and Yemen).

168. If the person reports one of these six countries as his place of birth or that of his parents, ask specifically whether the birthplace is located within the present area of the country; and if not, find out to what country it has been transferred. If a person was born in the Province of Bohemia, for example, which was formerly in Austria but is now a part of Czechoslovakia, the proper return for country of birth is Czechoslovakia. If you can not ascertain with certainty the present location of the birthplace, where this group of countries is involved, enter in addition to the name of the country, the name of the province or state in which the person was born, as Alsace-Lorraine, Bohemia, Croatia, Galicia, Moravia, Slovakia, etc., or the city, as Warsaw, Prague, Strasbourg, etc.

-- Steve Morse