Capturing Quantitative Data on Immigrants:

US Census Data and NYC Immigrant Tenements

Source: State Historical Society of Iowa

Project summary

The importance of understanding census data is extremely relevant when discussing immigration to New York. Oftentimes immigrant records are not as widely available, and the experiences of immigrants are often not highlighted in historical studies. This semester I focused on finding data that would allow for quantitative and spatial analysis on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, as it was extremely immigrant heavy in the early 1900’s and continues to be today.

My interest in immigrant history peaked after reading about the prevalence of Jewish immigrants in the Lower East Side. Personally, I am extremely interested in Jewish immigration patterns to the US because my family immigrated from Lithuania, so this information really appealed to me on a personal level. Through this interest and continued analysis on available data on Lower East demographics, I narrowed my research to a singular ward in the neighborhood, Manhattan’s 7th ward.

01Data source


Data Source



For the long term goal of mapping immigrant neighborhoods, especially those of the Lower East Side, this project required both spatial data and demographic data at a granular level (individual level). Without a ready made dataset of this kind, the goal this semester was to locate, extract and combine data from multiple complex datasets into one aggregate data set.

[Instead of The data methodology for this semester’s research done on the Lower East Side came from varying sources in order to integrate a spatial and static level dataset that will be useful for long term projects on census level data in the area.]

The spatial data used in this project was retrieved from Brown University’s Urban Transition Historical GIS Project. This data is significant in that it includes census level data at the most granular level, enumeration districts. Enumeration districts are relevant for this project as they allow for further exploration of the demographics of the Lower East Side in 1910. These shape files will allow for further qualitative and quantitative analysis in the future as the project progresses.

Wards and Enumeration Districts

In order to compile the data mentioned previously, it was important to understand the level of analysis that would be broken down in the project. Originally ward level data was the focus of the research, but after further analysis it became apparent that further granular data was accessible at the enumeration district level.

Enumeration districts were chosen due to the ability to analyze the Lower East Side block by block. On a qualitative level this enumeration district data allows for analysis of areas like the infamous lung block and condensed immigrant populated areas across the Lower East Side. After digitizing the enumeration districts there is the ability to further analyze demographics on the block level and understand the data.

Ward level data of New York City with enumeration districts labelled.

Source: Library of Congress

The second aspect of the project is the physical census data that was retrieved from Ancestry Library’s census data portal. During the process of this project these raster images of the original pages have been partially exported into csv files. The change from static images to manipulatable data will allow for connection to the previously mentioned shape file.

From now on the use of these two complex data files will be used to further understand Manhattan’s demographics in 1910. Looking forward I will be able to utilize this project for a more qualitative approach of data analysis.

A census page from Manhattan Ward 7’s 1910 census book.

Source: AncestryLibrary United States Federal Census


This project set the foundation for further analysis in the future. Due to COVID-19 this semester project was taken online, and resulted in the loss of on campus university resources. Because of this I was put into a situation where I had to teach myself QGIS, a new mapping software that I was not familiar with before this semester.

In addition to the locational challenges of the project, the shapefiles used in this project were hard to find and navigate. It took multiple weeks of searching through databases and reaching out to data librarians to find the enumeration district shapefile compiled by Brown University. Once this shapefile was discovered, when trying to use it I found errors in the labelling of wards in the attribute table of the file. The file had multiple wards depicted as “ward 7” which has proven to be a set back as I am now manually cross referencing the ward map depicted above and editing the attribute table so that they align.

Looking Forward

The semester consisted of digitizing enumeration districts in Ward 7 of Manhattan. This is only a small portion of area on a map of the Lower East Side, but a large amount of data to process. Looking forward, I will be focusing on continuing the process of digitization.After continuing the process of digitizing enumeration districts in the Lower East Side, I know that my area of focus for qualitative analysis will be historical immigrant neighborhoods like the East Village, Astor Place, Kleindeutschland (Little Germany), Alphabet City, Five Point, Chinatown, Little Italy, and the Bowery.

Woodframe tenements known as “Italian Row”

The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1896.

Methodology / Process

Originally the project was intended to be an interactive map that would allow viewers interested in immigration to the Lower East Side to look at the demographics of the area in a concise and interactive data visualization manner.

In order to do this I needed to import the data from the Ancestry Library into ArcGIS and use map tips to allow for interactive usage of the ward and enumeration district map retrieved from Brown University. This was a cumbersome task as there is no way to export the data from the census files into a manipulatable .csv file. Because of this I manually copied and pasted the data given from the Ancestry Library into a .csv file and was able to manipulate the data after doing so. This involved copying and pasting over 400 pages of census data manually and then connecting it to the attribute table on QGIS rather than ArcGIS.

As mentioned in the challenges section, after switching to remote learning my accessibility to ArcGIS software became limited. After the switch, and lack of access to familiar resources, I decided that the end goal of my semester project was to create a database of all enumeration districts in ward 7 that would be widely accessible in the future, and helpful in further qualitative analysis in future projects.


Rebecca Levy

Rebecca recently transferred to New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering concentrating her studies on human impacts to the environment and sustainable development for the future. She is from Boston, Massachusetts, and became interested in the project after learning about how sanitation reform in Boston impacts population growth.

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