The Decennial Census of Population and Housing, aka ‘the census,’ counts each resident of the country every ten years. Conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, the Constitution mandates the enumeration to determine the number of seats each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives. The first census was taken in 1790 during George Washington’s first term as U.S. President.
Census takers, or enumerators, were hired by the Federal Government to conduct the census. They were typically from the neighborhood or village that they were enumerating and often knew the residents. Enumerators would ask the residents questions such as their name, occupation, marital status, race, gender, and whether they owned or rented their home. These questions changed over time.
Census Enumeration District Maps
The area that each enumerator covered was called an Enumeration District. Enumeration districts varied in size from several city blocks to an entire county depending on the location. In each state, an enumeration district is given a unique number including two different numbers separated by a dash (i.e. 15-1). The first number is the assigned number for the county and the second number is for each district within the county.
Below is an image of a 1940 census population schedule that shows John F. Kennedy and his family living on Pondfield Road in Bronxville, New York. The enumeration district number (60-29) is recorded in the upper right-hand corner.
Beginning with the 1880 Census, maps of the districts were created to help administer and control data collection. The base maps were obtained locally and include postal route maps, General Land Office maps, soil survey maps, and maps produced by city, county, and state government offices as well as commercial printers. Because of this, the content of the maps varies. The maps would then be labeled with the enumeration district numbers and boundaries.
Below is the corresponding enumeration district map. District 60-29, including Pondfield Road, is located in the lower right portion of the map.
Below is the same area in the 1950 census. Note how this map shows buildings and lot lines.
The Cartographic Branch of the National Archives at College Park has the enumeration district maps in its holdings. To read more about the record collection in our catalog, please click here. The maps in our collection date from the 1880 census to the 1970 census. Maps are not available for all years and all locations.
Maps for the 1940 and 1950 censuses have been digitized and are available to view/download from our catalog. Maps for individual villages may not be fully digitized. Maps at the county level should all be digitized. Researchers can request enumeration district maps in our research room to see all maps for a particular county. Maps for the 1900-1940 censuses were microfilmed and are available digitally (in black-and-white) through a partnership with FamilySearch.
Census Enumeration District Descriptions
The Cartographic Branch also holds a collection of Census Enumeration District Descriptions. To read more about the collection in our catalog, please click here. The records in our collection date from the 1850 census to the 1950 census.
For the 1850, 1860, and 1870 Censuses there are textual descriptions of the census district (usually a state or part of a state) and the subdivision (usually a county or part of a county). Beginning with the 1880 census, the descriptions relate to enumeration districts. These records are useful for areas where a map is not available, or if the specific district number is not known.
Below is the description for Bronxville, New York for the 1940 census.