Difference between "roomer" and "boarder" in 1930 US census?


I encountered the following situation in a 1930 census of a household of a family I am researching: In addition to mother (head) and daughter, there is a roomer, and three girls with the same last name (ages 15, 13, and 11) shown as boarders.

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What are the definitions of the two terms? (My guess is that this was a foster household for the three girls.)

What is the definition of the term "lodger" relative to the preceding?

Would these terms be used consistently across all censuses?

Gene Golovchinsky

Posted 2012-11-06T07:25:15.147

Reputation: 8 011

Questions, comments, etc. I agree with distinction between roomer and boarder, but also with the guy who wants to know what difference it makes to the census taker? It only matters to us. However, my question is why would a woman list herself as Head and her daughter and three grandchildren as boarders? Family originally from England/Ireland. Would that make the difference? Why not acknowledge your relatives? This same family has members who list themselves as widows when they are not - but they are separated from living, breathing husbands. I kind of get this one, but still ...Caveat research – LadyMondegrine – 2017-06-03T16:55:53.040

Hi LadyMondegrine – this is in the answer section, so could you please ask your new question using the Ask Question link at the top. It's fine to provide a link to this question for background information but it sounds like your question is separate from this one. Thanks!

– Harry Vervet – 2017-06-03T17:24:26.433

Something I try to consider when reviewing answers is whether they include any questions. Personally, I never (certainly I hope I never:-) ask questions in my answers. I'm going to convert this "answer" with four questions into a comment. – PolyGeo – 2017-06-05T11:09:29.350

Any dictionary would have given you the answer between which ever two term you are really asking about. – Tom Wetmore – 2012-11-06T09:53:33.493

The question mentions "roomer" and "lodger". The record mentions "roomer" and "boarder". – Tom Wetmore – 2012-11-06T09:57:28.473

2Actually, I mention all three terms, because I believe I had seen them all in various censuses. While I agree with @TomWetmore that a dictionary might have a number of definitions for each term, I was looking for something definitive about the terms as used by census takers. – Gene Golovchinsky – 2012-11-06T16:16:36.067

I've run into this too. That's great to delineate the difference between roomers and boarders, but what possible interest could the census bureau have in whether or not someone paid the landlord for meals? I sense there's a deeper (though not that deep) cultural significance. – None – 2014-11-07T05:55:34.483

Welcome to G&FH SE! I'll need to convert your "answer" to a comment because the answer area is reserved for direct answers to the question. I encourage you to ask a few questions and you should quickly have enough reputation to post comments. – PolyGeo – 2014-11-07T07:38:31.117



In general, a roomer meant someone whho rented a room but that did not include meals. A boarder paid for "room and board" (i.e. meals).

Andy Hatchett

Posted 2012-11-06T07:25:15.147

Reputation: 1 409

Did foster children have payments made on their behalf during the depression? I am wondering where the money would come from if they were required to pay. – Gene Golovchinsky – 2012-11-06T16:18:26.497


There's no definition of the terms in The 1930 Census Enumerator's Instructions, so the dictionary definitions would seem to apply -- a lodger rents accommodation while a boarder pays for accommodation and meals.

The only slightly relevant statement is:

A boarder or lodger should be included with the members of the family with which he lodges; but a persons who boards in one place and lodges or rooms at another should be returned as a member of the family at the place where he lodges or rooms.


Posted 2012-11-06T07:25:15.147


Although this rule wasn't always followed - I've found multiple cases of railroad engineers & conductors, who were heads of the family household at one end of the line, and kept a room at the other end. Sometimes they were enumerated in one place, sometimes the other, and sometimes both. – cleaverkin – 2018-05-08T21:51:21.937