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MassGIS Data: 1990 U.S. Census

December 1995

The U.S. Bureau of the Census developed and now distributes the Topologically Integrated Geographic Encoding and Referencing System (TIGER) extract data sets as part of the 1990 Decennial Census. These files are available nationwide and serve as a geographic framework for Census summary statistical and demographic data. EOEA has obtained these files and has reprocessed them into Arc/INFO format and the Massachusetts State Plane Coordinate System to match the existing MassGIS data base.

The Census Bureau developed the "TIGER/Line" geographical database to support its census enumeration and publication programs starting with the 1990 Decennial Census. Linework contained in these files includes the boundary features that the Bureau uses in preparing its data tabulations, including roads, streams, and political boundaries. Much of this linework is comparable to the 1:100,000 scale Digital Line Graphs (DLGs) produced by the U.S. Geological Survey, and in fact DLGs of roads and streams were the source of much of the linework compiled outside of metropolitan areas. Unlike DLGs, the TIGER/Line data includes feature names and, in metropolitan areas, ranges of street addresses. Street name and address attributes facilitate the process of "address-matching" or "geocoding"--linking addresses with geographic coordinates in a GIS.

The TIGER network of lines forms the boundaries of "census block" polygons, the smallest units used by the Census Bureau in tabulating its data. Census blocks are typically the size of city blocks: in fact, they often are city blocks, but they can be bounded not only by streets but also by other linear geographic features in the TIGER files including streams and political boundaries. Each of these polygons is assigned a census block number in the TIGER file which is used to reference tabular data published by the Census Bureau.

The tabular data files ("matrices") published by the Census Bureau, not the TIGER files themselves, contain the demographic summaries produced as a result of the 1990 Census. However, in the reprocessing of TIGER files for use at MassGIS, a few selected data attributes were extracted from these matrices and incorporated into the MassGIS Census datalayers.

Table of Contents

What MassGIS provides

As federal digital data products, Census data including TIGER files and matrices are available for purchase directly from the Census Bureau in Washington, D.C. Data are also available to the public at 41 Federal and Census Depository Libraries in Massachusetts, including many university libraries and the Boston Public Library.

MassGIS has extracted and reprocessed data from the original TIGER files for use in its Geographic Information System. The reprocessed Census datalayers have been converted into the Massachusetts State Plane Coordinate system; to minimize processing requirements, the data have been extracted into three datalayers:

  • Census 1990 Blocks - Block boundary polygons with a few demographic data items appended from a variety of Census Bureau publications.
  • Census 1990 Block Groups - Block Group boundary polygons with many demographic data fields from the Census Bureau's STF-1a and STF-3 publications.
  • Census 1990 TIGER Linework - complete set of TIGER linework - roads, trains, rivers, boundaries, etc.

Considerations when using TIGER data

The development of a nationwide, standard 1:100,000 scale geographic data set for the 1990 Census has been hailed as the "backbone" of a federal geographic data infrastructure. The TIGER files are a unique resource, containing a wealth of geographic data attributes unavailable in earlier data sets such as the 1:100,000 scale Digital Line Graphs published by the U.S. Geological Survey. The link between the TIGER files and Census Bureau data--and potentially with data to be published by other federal agencies--makes TIGER data an attractive option for GIS users. Furthermore, the relatively low cost of Census Bureau data and its availability at depository libraries makes TIGER data easily accessible.

As with all sources of GIS data, TIGER data is not suitable for use at scales larger than that at which it was compiled. In the case of TIGER data this scale is 1:100,000--a regional scale which is not recommended for use on the larger scale of a Massachusetts town. MassGIS has found the accuracy of TIGER linework to be inconsistent, especially in metropolitan areas where a variety of source maps were used to compile the TIGER files. Another concern for potential users of this data is the size of the TIGER files. As issued by the Census Bureau, county TIGER files are very large and may strain the processing capacities of microcomputers; the smaller town coverages produced by MassGIS may reduce this problem.

TIGER linework frequently does not match the MassGIS "base map" coverages, so care should be exercised when using other MassGIS datalayers together with the Census datalayer for spatial analysis. For this reason, the individual town coverages may contain small polygons with Census codes relating to neighboring towns.

Due to the large volume of data, not every town in the Commonwealth has been checked systematically. The TIGER files contain many errors that were created by the Census Bureau during the production process--for example, legitimate arcs that are smaller than 0.1 feet in length. While these arcs have little meaning in a cartographic database, they are part of the TIGER data structure; without them, the relationship between graphics and attributes is degraded or destroyed. In order to maintain this relationship, MassGIS does not intend to edit or make corrections to the TIGER linework.

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