Learn about the 1920 United States Census

1920-census

The 1920 census was the 14th census taken by the United States government, which is required to conduct a census every 10 years. Enter a name below to begin searching the 1920 census.

 

1920 Census Questions

As you search 1920 census records, you can use our 1920 census questions graphic to guide you.

What Makes the 1920 Census Unique?

Woman holds baby outside

A Change in Schedule

The 1920 census was the only census to be taken on January 1. Prior census dates were early August (1790–1820), early June (1830–1900), and April 15 (1910). After 1920, the census date became April 1.

Census takers couldn’t reasonably question everyone on the same day; rather, they asked respondents to answer questions according to what was accurate on that date.

New Immigration Questions

Some immigration questions were new in the 1920 census, such as questions about a person’s native language (“mother tongue”) and the native language of each parent. A question about the year of naturalization was also new.

No Separate Schedule for Native Americans

Native Americans were not enumerated separately in 1920, as they had been previously.

Some Questions Were Removed

In 1920, questions weren’t included about veteran status, neither for the Civil War (which was mentioned in 1910) nor for the recently-concluded Great War.

The 1920 census also didn’t ask adults how long they had been married or women how many children they had borne and how many were still living.

Life in the 1910s and 1920s

It is helpful to understand what was going on in the world when the 1920 census was taken and how it might have affected the census results—and your ancestors’ lives.

April 7, 2020
The term “lost generation” refers to a group of writers—but also to an entire generation—who came of age during World War I. Here is why the…
April 9, 2020
Fashion in 1910 was unique. It retained much of the class and style of the previous era, but with a simplified flare. However, World War I h…
March 31, 2020
What was life like in the United States 100 years ago today? The year 1920 ushered in a new decade and brought new innovations and a life of…

In 1920, the United States—along with other nations—was still reeling from recent global events. More than 4 million United States troops had served in the Great War (1914–1918), and over 116,000 didn’t come home. Others returned with physical and emotional wounds that lingered for years. The lives of millions of women were transformed. Many entered the workforce for the first time or served in the Army Nurse Corps and Navy Nurse Corps.

Soldiers in WW1

The Spanish flu epidemic (1918–1919) was still fresh in memory too. The global pandemic that cost more than 50 million lives worldwide took about 675,000 casualties in the United States. The death rate was surprisingly high among young adults, including women of childbearing age, and many families were forever altered.

When you look at a 1920 census entry for your family, keep in mind not only what they had recently experienced—such as the war or the flu pandemic—but what was coming later in 1920. A new, if temporary, era of Prohibition was about to begin. And a more permanent change was on the horizon, signaling a new age of women’s participation in public life—female suffrage.

How did those events change your family? Look in the 1920 census for clues.

Use 1920 Census Records to Create a Genealogy Snapshot

Despite being a little shorter than the previous census, the 1920 census still gathered much information about households in the United States. For example, here’s the entry of my twice-great-grandparents, Willard George Homer and Elvina Josephine Pehrson:

1920 census record screenshot
1920 census entry for Willard G. and Elvina J. Homer, Riverside, Bingham, Idaho, digitized image at FamilySearch.org.

By studying the column headings (outlined in red) for my family’s entry (outlined in yellow), I can reconstruct the following snapshot of their lives:

Willard (46) and Elvina (38) lived in Riverside, Idaho, with eight children—four sons and four daughters. (I can see all their names, ages, and birthplaces.) Willard and Elvina owned their home but were still paying off a mortgage. Willard ran a farm that employed others, possibly one or more of the farm laborers listed on the same census page.

Willard was a native of Utah; his parents were born in Ohio and Missouri. Elvina, born in Denmark to a Danish father and Swedish mother, had become a naturalized citizen. Their 17-year old son was working as a railroad machinist; four younger siblings were in school. Baby Willard was only 3 months old.

Looking at the census record yourself, can you find all those details? A few are subtle, such as “O” in column 7 (by Willard’s name) indicating home ownership and “M” in the next column, showing that he was still paying the mortgage.

To be sure about his status as a farm employer, I looked up what “Em” in column 28 means in the 1920 census enumerator instructions. There, it says that “Em” applies to “one employing persons, other than domestic servants, in transacting his own business.”

Three girls in the 1920s outside

Curious about what your ancestors were doing in 1920? Look for them in the 1920 census.

April 23, 2022
The 1850 United States census was the 7th U.S. federal census. This population schedule was the first federal census to list everyone in a h…
April 4, 2022
In 1890, the United States conducted the 12th federal census with a sense of excitement. New technologies and strategies aimed to help the 1…
March 11, 2022
During the 1850s, many United States residents migrated west. Some headed to the gold fields of California or to the silver mines in Nevada.…
February 28, 2022
The 1870 United States census was taken only a few years after the American Civil War ended. Some families had migrated westward, while othe…
February 6, 2022
Every 10 years since 1790, the United States conducts a census of its residents. The tenth census, taken in 1880, showed new milestones reac…
December 4, 2020
Image courtesy of the United States Census Bureau The date 1 April 2022 can’t come fast enough! Why? Because that is the date of the release…
December 3, 2020
The 1910 United States census was the 13th federal census taken by the United States since 1790. There was a late question added—so late, in…
November 21, 2020
The 1930 census was the 15th federal census taken by the United States, which has taken a census each decade since 1790. These 1930 census r…
November 16, 2020
The United States began conducting federal population censuses in 1790. The 1900 U.S. census was the 12th federal census, and it included tw…
December 8, 2018
The United States took its first census in 1790, just a year after George Washington was inaugurated as the first president. For such a youn…
Page of 2

About the Author
Sunny Jane Morton teaches family history to global audiences as a speaker and writer. She is a contributing editor at Family Tree Magazine (U.S.) and content manager for Your DNA Guide. She is co-author of How to Find Your FamilyHistory in U.S. Church Records and author of Story of My Life: A Workbook for Preserving Your Legacy. Find her at www.sunnymorton.com.