Birthplace for 1940 Census

Birthplace, mother’s birthplace and father’s birthplace are all available in IPUMS USA, but as far as I can tell, it’s not possible to grab that data by Census Tract for NHGIS for 1880 to 1970. Why is that?

A colleague from the IPUMS NHGIS team has already been in touch with you about this question via email discussing more details. However, I wanted to post a response with some high-level information for others interested in this topic.

First, census tracts did not exist until 1910, so we will never have census tract data for 1880-1900. Then, from 1910-1930, census tract data was created for individual cities through contracts between the Census Bureau and those cities. The Bureau established census tracts as an official unit of geography for the 1940 decennial census. I am linking to a handy summary of the history of census tracts.

Second, if the Bureau did not publish tract-level statistics for a particular variable, NHGIS won’t have them. In 1940 and 1950, the Bureau published a small set of tract tabulations, and those are all we have on NHGIS. We do have place of birth for the foreign-born White population in 1940 and 1950, but since they didn’t publish any tabulations for mother or father’s birthplace, we won’t have any via NHGIS. In 1960, the Bureau published tract tabulations on paper and in digital format. Again, we have place of birth for “Foreign Stock Persons” but nothing for mother’s or father’s birthplace. In 1970, we have place of birth for “Foreign Stock Persons” but nothing for mother’s or father’s birthplace since that wasn’t tabulated and published by the Bureau.