What Is a US Census Enumeration District?

1940 Census ED Descriptions, National Archives & Records Administration
1940 Census ED Descriptions. National Archives & Records Administration

An enumeration district (ED) is a geographic area assigned to an individual census taker, or enumerator, usually representing a specific portion of a city or county. The coverage area of a single enumeration district, as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau, is the area for which an enumerator could complete a count of the population within the allotted time for that particular census year. The size of an ED can range from a single city block (occasionally even a portion of a block if it is located within a large city packed with high-rise apartment buildings) to an entire county in sparsely populated rural areas.

Each enumeration district designated for a particular census was assigned a number. For more recently released censuses, such as 1930 and 1940, each county within a state was assigned a number and then a smaller ED area within the county was assigned a second number, with the two numbers joined with a hyphen.

In 1940, John Robert Marsh and his wife, Margaret Mitchell, famous author of Gone With the Wind, were living in a condo at 1 South Prado (1268 Piedmont Ave) in Atlanta, Georgia. Their 1940 Enumeration District (ED) is 160–196, with 160 representing the City of Atlanta, and 196 designating the individual ED within the city designated by the cross streets of S. Prado and Piedmont Ave.

What Is an Enumerator?

An enumerator, commonly called a census taker, is an individual temporarily employed by the U.S. Census Bureau to collect census information by going house to house in their assigned enumeration district. Enumerators are paid for their work and provided with detailed instructions on how and when to gather the information about each individual living within their assigned enumeration district(s) for a particular census. For the 1940 Census enumeration, each enumerator had either 2 weeks or 30 days to obtain information from each individual within their enumeration district.

Using Enumeration Districts for Genealogy

Now that US census records are indexed and available online, Enumeration Districts aren't as important to genealogists as they once were. They can still be helpful, however, in certain situations. When you can't locate an individual in the index, then browse page-by-page through the records of the ED where you expect your relatives to be living. Enumeration District maps are also helpful for determining the order that an enumerator may have worked his way through his particular district, helping you to visualize the neighborhood and identify neighbors.

How to Locate an Enumeration District

To identify an individual's enumeration district, we need to know where they were living at the time the census was taken, including the state, city and street name. The street number is also very helpful in larger cities. With this information, the following tools can help to locate the Enumeration District for each census:

  • Stephen P. Morse’s One-Step Tools website includes ED Finder tools for the 1880, 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930, and 1940 U.S. federal censuses.
  • Morse’s One-Step site also offers an ED conversion tool for converting between 1920 and 1930, and 1930 and 1940 Censuses.
  • The National Archives has online ED maps and geographic descriptions for the 1940 census. Descriptions of Census Enumeration Districts 1830–1890 and 1910–1950 can be found on the 156 rolls of NARA microfilm publication T1224. Enumeration District maps for 1900–1940 are available on the 73 rolls of NARA microfilm publication A3378. The Family History Library also has Enumeration District maps and descriptions on FHL microfilm.
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Powell, Kimberly. "What Is a US Census Enumeration District?" ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, thoughtco.com/us-census-enumeration-district-1422770. Powell, Kimberly. (2021, February 16). What Is a US Census Enumeration District? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/us-census-enumeration-district-1422770 Powell, Kimberly. "What Is a US Census Enumeration District?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/us-census-enumeration-district-1422770 (accessed March 29, 2023).