Start Preparing for the 1940 Census

In just 28 days the 1940 census will be released! What does this mean? It means that anyone with Internet access will be able to browse digital scans of the census for free on several websites including Archives.com and Ancestry.com.

This is the first census to be released online in digital format only and not on microfilm. But don’t expect to be able to enter a surname to find your ancestor or relative. The 1940 census will not have a name index upon release. You will have to search and browse the index just like you did when you had to use microfilm, page by page. Eventually the census will be indexed, but if you don’t want to wait (do genealogists really like wait for anything?) there are ways to find your subjects before an index is available.

First, a few facts. The 1940 census is the largest census ever released and it contains new and valuable information that previous census records didn’t have. The people captured in the census had survived the Great Depression and were soon to be in the midst of World War II. Hundreds of thousands of them are still alive today.

The 1940 census included several standard questions such as name, age, gender, race, education, and place of birth. But it also introduced some new questions. For example, the enumerator was instructed to mark (with a circled x) who in the household responded to the census questions. Another question included whether the person worked for the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), Works Progress Administration, or National Youth Administration during the week of March 24-30, 1940. The census taker also asked what the household income was for the 12 month period of January 1 – December 31, 1939.

So how can you find your ancestors, relatives, or subjects that you are researching? The pages of the census will be searchable by Enumeration District.

Norman Rockwell's "Census-taker" cover for the Saturday Evening Post, April 27, 1940.

As soon as the census is released, the indexing will start. You can help with the indexing project by registering at http://the1940census.com/.

Additional resources:

For a blank census worksheet: http://www.archives.gov/research/census/1940/1940.pdf.

More information about the census: http://www.archives.gov/research/census/1940/general-info.html.

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