GHL Blog Rotating Header Image

U.S. Census Bureau

Facts for the Fourth: North Carolina Edition

Share Button

Facts for the Fourth!

Some interesting and fun facts related to the Fourth of July and North Carolina

Guest post written by Beth Hayden, Demographics and Reference Librarian

fireworks2Whether your destination is to the beach, the mountains, or you are just planning to stay at home, consider a few facts and figures this Fourth of July holiday.

AAA predicts that nationwide 41 million people will travel this Fourth of July holiday (July 2-6). This would represent a 1.9% increase over the 40.3 million who traveled last Independence Day.


Of the 7,400,424 cars and trucks registered in North Carolina, many are expected to travel to some destination on the 74,945.77 miles of paved roads in our state.

Source: and NC Department of Transportation

Understanding the Census Soundex

Share Button
image of the soundex code system

Image courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)

Many seasoned genealogists are familiar with the federal census Soundex codes. Many have even used the Soundex cards before census records were digitized and made available online with their own indexes. Some newer to the scene are unfamiliar with the system. This blog post is meant to provide you with some basic information about what it is, when and why it was created, and how to use it.

What it is: At the most basic explanation, the Soundex is an index of surnames based on how the name sounds rather than the way it is spelled. Surnames that sound similar but spelled differently are grouped together using Soundex code. For example, Smith vs. Smyth vs. Smythe all have the same code (S530); however, not all similar names have the same code. For example, the names Johnson (J525) and Johnston (J523) are different due to the extra consonant letter.

When and why created:  The Soundex was created in the 1930s by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) for the Social Security Administration, which was created by an act passed in 1935 during President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first term.


President Roosevelt signing Social Security Act

President Roosevelt signing Social Security Act – Image courtesy of the Social Security Administration

After creation of the Social Security Administration, those who applied for old-age benefits had to prove when they were born; however, some had no proof since they were born before the time their state began recording births (1913 in NC). The Soundex was created due to census records usually being reliable proof of when and where a person was born. It was very time consuming to go through every census record to find a person. With the Soundex, they were able to find people much quicker!

Soundex indexes were created for the census years of 1880, 1900, 1910, 1920 and 1930. Only households with children aged 10 and younger were indexed in the 1880 census.  All households were indexed for the later years but not all states were indexed in 1910 or 1930. North Carolina has Soundex for all five of these censuses.

How to use the Soundex: The first step is to write out the name. The first letter in the surname is kept and then all vowels are dropped as well as the letters H,W, and Y. Using my own surname we have:  Bradford=Brdfrd.

Next, we change the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th letters into numbers in accordance with the code at the top: B631.  We do not include the last 2 letters in this case. The reason for that is we only use 3 numbers or codes.

With the surname Jones:  Jones=Jns. This becomes J520 – zero because we ran out of letters.

Names that begin with Mc such as McClain and McNeill are figured out the same way and begin with M2…. If the surname is MacDonald, for example, it still begins with M2 because the “a” is a dropped vowel.

Finally, in the case of the surname Tillman, we have a double letter. In this case, the 2nd L is dropped. We have: Tillman=Tlmn=T455.  Double numbers are ok, but not double letters.

So why use the Soundex when we have access to census indexes online?  Sometimes a family just does not show up online, no matter how hard you look.  We have had researchers successfully locate their missing relatives by using Soundex and census microfilm. Come visit us at the Government and Heritage Library to view our North Carolina Soundex for the 1880 and 1900-1930 censuses!

Further reading about the Soundex:


Countdown to the 1940 Census: The Census in Pop Culture

Share Button

On the first and third Mondays of the month our guest blogger,  Government and Heritage Library intern Carla Sarratt will be  counting down to the release of the 1940 Census data on Monday, April 2, 2012. 

At the Government and Heritage Library, we’re all anticipating April 2, 2012 which is the date that millions of people across the world have been anticipating more than Christmas or Super Bowl Sunday.  On that date, the 1940 Census data will be made available for public use.  Census data is protected by federal law for 72 years.  Avid genealogists will have census forms of yesteryear dancing in their heads as they try to sleep on April 1 ready to discover more about their family members in the days to come.

Thanks to the TV show Who Do You Think You Are (season 3 premiered on February 3, 2012 on NBC), interest in family history and genealogy has increased in popularity.  Historian Henry Louis Gates Jr. will return to PBS in March with a series called Finding Your Roots which will feature husband and wife Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick.

Genealogy resources and websites are critical tools for curious family members seeking to know if someone in their family did something significant in history or helped someone famous achieve notoriety.  It’s pretty heady stuff if you think about it.  The Census takes on a whole new meaning when you are able to look at a 1900 Census form and see your grandparents’ or great grandparents’ names along with the names of their siblings.

We recently took a look at the Census as well as its presence in pop culture.  I think you’ll get a kick out of what we discovered.

In October 1940, those wacky dudes affectionately known as The Three Stooges worked as Census takers in a short film called No Census, No Feeling.

Theatrical release poster for No Census, No Feeling starring the 3 Stooges, released October 4, 1940. Image courtesy Wikipedia.

Fast forward 44 years to a dark comedy called The Census Taker starring Garrett Morris of Saturday Night Live fame.

Poster for the 1984 movie, the Census Taker starring Garrett Morris. Courtesy of Wikipedia.



If you’re looking to teach your children about what it was like to conduct the Census in 1790, give them a copy of Jacqueline Davies’ Tricking the Tallyman.

Cover of the children's book, Tricking the Tallyman by Jacqueline Davies.

Finally, I am a quote lover, preferring the profound and the humorous and lucked out finding two good ones:

 “Hold it right there. You men from the bank?” “You Wash’s boy?” “Yessir and Daddy told me I’m to shoot whoever’s from the bank.” “Well, we ain’t from the bank young feller.” “Yessir, I’m also s’posed to shoot folks serving papers.” “We ain’t got no papers neither.” “I nicked the census man.” “Now there’s a good boy.” ― Joel Coen, O Brother, Where Art Thou?

“A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.” — Hannibal Lecter, The Silence of the Lambs

About the author

Formerly employed with the 2010 Census, Carla Sarratt is a Master of Library Science student at North Carolina Central University in Durham, North Carolina interning with the Government and Heritage Library.

New Information from U.S. Census Bureau’s Survey of Business Owners

Share Button

New Information from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Survey of Business Owners

Written by Elizabeth Hayden, Demographics and Reference Librarian

According to the Survey of Business Owners: Black-Owned Businesses: 2007, North Carolina had 83,900 black-owned businesses–60.9% more than in 2002.  The Survey of Business Owners consists of data from a questionnaire sent to approximately 2.3 million businesses.  (more…)

This blog is a service of the State Library of North Carolina, part of the NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. Blog comments and posts may be subject to Public Records Law and may be disclosed to third parties.