Friday, March 2, 2012

The Release of the 1940 Census is Coming Soon -- are you ready?

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We’re all very excited about the upcoming release of the 1940 US Federal Census. And many of us have questions about the release. When will it occur? How will I access it? Will it cost money? Can I look up ancestors by name? I will address these questions in this post.

Perhaps most important is where you will find the 1940 Census on April 2, 2012. It will only be in one place: So, now you know when and where to access it. But what does it look like? What information will you find on this census?

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First of all, let’s look at the actual document. What questions were asked on the 1940 Census? This information will help prepare you for the April 2 release. You will already be familiar with the document.

The US Census Bureau website has a useful comparison of the 1940/2010 Census questions and findings. One of the many interesting comparisons is how many farmers there were in 1940 (5.1 million) and how many in 2010 (613,000).

I was fortunate to attend a local presentation on the 1940 Census Release, hosted by The Clarke-Oconee Genealogical Society and the Oconee Public Library Ivy Room in Watkinsville, GA. Mr. Shane Bell, from the National Archives (NARA) Southeast Region, presented the program "How to Prepare to Locate Your Ancestors in the 1940 Census." Since the 1940 Census will not be name-indexed by April, Mr. Bell explained how to use enumeration districts to find people.

If you do not have the opportunity to attend a local presentation on the 1940 Census put on by NARA, you will find sufficient information on two websites to make your 1940 census preparation experience a straightforward one.

The first website to check is The National Archives page What can you do now in preparation for the opening of the 1940 Census?”  NARA lists three steps that you can take now to prepare for April 2nd:
  1. “Make a list of all the people you want to look for in the 1940 census.”
  2. “Collect addresses for these people for whom you plan to search.”
  3. “Identify the enumeration district (ED) in which each address was located.” NARA lists three ways to find the ED where your ancestor lived, but the third way, the most direct and comprehensive, is to use Steve Morse’s website.
I contacted Dr. Morse, and he was very helpful in suggesting how to approach the task of identifying 1940 EDs.

First, he directed me to his article “Getting Ready for the 1940 Census: Searching Without a Name Index”.  In the third section of this article, “Enumeration Districts”, you will learn that the 1930/1940 EDs consisted of two parts: a prefix (the county) and a suffix (the district/town).

In the fourth section of the article, “Where Did the Family Live?”, he gives some great suggestions as to where you might find the 1940 address of you ancestor. Remember, if you have the 1930 address of your target ancestor, this will not be sufficient if he/she moved in the decade between 1930 and 1940.

I have a caveat to offer as you begin this process. First, have all your ducks in a row:
  1. know the geography of the area where your ancestor lived in 1940. Was it a small town?Was  it a city over 5,000 people?
  2. know the county in which the target town/city was located
  3. realize that knowing the 1930 address of your ancestor is not sufficient if he/she moved by 1940

All right. The preparation is done. It’s time to relax and follow Dr. Morse's next suggestion: take the Tutorial Quiz that leads you through the process to get to your 1940 ED. Remember, there are twists and turns in the journey. Lots of screens. But be patient. Take a break if you get lost.

Now you are all set for April 2, 2012. Be sure to remember the caution on the NARA site regarding how to access the 1940 census. It will only be available in one place. NARA and have teamed up to offer the 1940 census at a special site, free of charge with the opening bell at 9:00 am on April 2, 2012. And if you couldn't find the 1940 address of one of more of your ancestors, don't despair. The name index for the 1940 Census will be available at some point.

Categories: census, US Agencies

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