Spreadsheet Offers Downloadable Demographic Tool for Researchers

(Rebecca Moore is the co-director of the Jonestown Institute.)

A wealth of demographic data has been collected about those who died in Jonestown—gender, race, place of birth, occupation, and more. The Jonestown Institute has complied these data into a Google Spreadsheet for scholars to use in their own research. This spreadsheet is frequently updated, so be sure to check back often. The spreadsheet is in a read-only format, but it can be downloaded into a separate file on your own computer and the data managed from there.

It is important to note that the data in this spreadsheet apply only to those who died in Jonestown (including the eight who died of natural causes before November 18, 1978), Georgetown, and the Port Kaituma airstrip. This is both its strength and weakness.

The strength is that the spreadsheet allows academics to learn detailed information about the Jonestown dead within the scope of their own research interests: how many African American women from Louisiana died in Jonestown; how many people were born in Indiana before 1965 and were therefore likely to have followed the group on its trek from Indianapolis to California to Guyana; etc. The principal shortcoming is that, since it includes data only on those who died, it does not consider similar information on the 80 members of Peoples Temple who were in Guyana on November 18 and who survived the tragedy, much less the hundreds of active Temple members still in the United States. As an example of this weakness, this dataset shows that only 70 percent of those who died in Jonestown were African American, whereas general church membership was closer to 90 or 95 percent. In this sense, it is incomplete and provides an inaccurate picture of the Temple as a whole.

Instead, this resource offers a snapshot of a single moment in the group’s history, not a longitudinal picture over time, although it might be used to gain some information along those lines. Thus, the creators urge researchers to use the data with caution and avoid making broad generations about the demographic make-up of Peoples Temple.

We would appreciate a credit to The Jonestown Institute if you publish findings based on the spreadsheet. This work is the result of 20 years of research assistance from former Temple members Don Beck and Laura Kohl, from Denice Stephenson, Tanya Hollis, and Frances Kaplan of the California Historical Society, and from longtime website data manager Elizabeth Parker Shaules. We also thank Marc Pastor at San Diego State University for the creation of the worksheet itself.