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?

  • Any dictionary would have given you the answer between which ever two term you are really asking about. Commented Nov 6, 2012 at 9:53
  • The question mentions "roomer" and "lodger". The record mentions "roomer" and "boarder". Commented Nov 6, 2012 at 9:57
  • 2
    Actually, 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. Commented Nov 6, 2012 at 16:16
  • 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.
    – user2589
    Commented Nov 7, 2014 at 5:55
  • 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
    Commented Nov 7, 2014 at 7:38

2 Answers 2


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).

  • 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. Commented Nov 6, 2012 at 16:18

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.

  • 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
    Commented May 8, 2018 at 21:51

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