Monday, March 5, 2012

The 1940 US Census

It's your America! Help the ten-year
roll call--1940 census, U.S.A.

United States. Bureau of the Census,
U.S. Government Printing Office,
circa 1940.  Library of Congress
Prints and Photographs Division.
Four weeks from today, on Monday, April 2, at 8 AM Central time, the 1940 US Census will be released digitally.  Genealogists (like me) and historians have been waiting for this, as the 1940 (and later) original census forms have not been available for public use because of a statutory 72-year restriction on access for privacy reasons.  The digital images will be available for viewing and download for FREE at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) special 1940 US Census website,

The 1940 US Census, officially occuring on April 1, 1940, asked the typical questions from earlier censuses: name, age, gender, race, education, and place of birth. But the 1940 US Census also asked some new questions. Lingering concerns from the Great Depression were reflected in numerous questions about employment status for those age 14 and older.  For example:

There was also a question about income for the 12 months ending December 31, 1939, as well as one asking where one was living on April 1, 1935 (which will be a gold mine for genealogists!).

The 1940 also has a "supplemental schedule" for two names on each page, the persons enumerated on lines 14 and 29 (about a 5% sample of the population). The supplemental schedule is a section with additional questions to ask these two people.  It asks the place of birth of the person's father and mother; the person's usual occupation, not just what they were doing the week of March 24-30, 1940; and for all women who are or have been married, has this woman been married more than once and age at first marriage.

The 1940 US Census will not have a name index when it opens on April 2, 2012., a free website, plans to create a free name index of the 1940 US Census after it opens. You can sign up NOW to be a 1940 US Census indexer. In the meantime, you can get some practice by indexing other records through FamilySearch Indexing.

I have been a FamilySearch indexer for a few months now.  It involves downloading some software to your computer, then downloading batches, indexing them, and uploading them back to the FamilySearch indexing website.  It's been rewarding to see records I've indexed actually appear later on the FamilySearch site.  If you follow the detailed instructions with each batch, you will be successful and will help others access all sorts of records - lately I've been working with Texas birth records from the early 1900s.

Until name indexes are available, you will need to know the address of the person you are searching for and the Census enumeration district (ED) in which that address was located.  Initially, the 1940 Census WILL be indexed down to the ED level.  So, if you know the 1940 ED for an ancestor or relative, it will shorten your search considerably.  There are a number of tools available to help you figure out EDs.  The National Archives has a web page with links to various other sites and utilities for determining 1940 EDs.  There are other suggestions on the National Archives website on how to prepare to do research in the 1940 US Census.

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