Reprint: A Note from the Editor: Preparing for the Opening of the 1940 Census

Source: Lynn Betlock, “A Note from the Editor: Preparing for the Opening of the 1940 Census,” The Weekly Genealogist, Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 07 December 2011, 14:49.

A Note from the Editor: Preparing for the Opening of the 1940 Census
by Lynn Betlock, Editor

The online debut of the 1940 census is now only four months away. At 9 a.m. on Monday, April 2, 2012, the National Archives will make the census available for research.

The 1940 census will provide some challenges for researchers used to typing a name in a search box and immediately locating an ancestor’s place of residence. There is no index to the 1940 census. The National Archives FAQ page on the 1940 census reports that in lieu of an index, “You can locate people by identifying the enumeration district in which they lived in 1940 and then browsing the Census population schedules for that enumeration district.”

If you don’t know where an ancestor lived in 1940, you can follow the suggestions on the Start Your 1940 Census Research Page:

1. Make a list of all the people you want to look for in the 1940 census

2. Determine their addresses using sources such as city directories, 1930 census information, and World War II draft records.

3. Identify the enumeration district for each address. Follow the steps provided online to search 1940 census maps for enumeration district numbers and descriptions. You can also try the search utilities, which allow you to convert 1930 EDs to 1940 ones and search for 1940 EDs by using addresses or locations.
You can view a clock that is counting down the days, hours, minutes, and seconds until the census opening — and a wealth of information on the 1940 census on the National Archives website.

Steve Morse’s 1940 census information page contains numerous strategies for locating ancestors using his free One-Step tools and a source checklist that might yield 1940 addresses. Mr. Morse also provides useful background on the 1940 census. For instance, “There were several new and interesting questions in 1940. Some examples are name of informant (so you can see if the information was provided by someone knowledgeable), highest school grade completed (to see if education level affected whether or not a person had a job in this recessionary period), country of birth as of 1937 borders (because the borders of Europe were changing fast and furiously in 1940), place of residence in 1935 (to see how migratory the population was due to the recession and great dust bowl of the 1930s), and income.”

On his website, Mr. Morse speculates that a complete name index to the 1940 census will be available about six months after the census is released. So if some of your ancestors prove elusive, other search options will become available over time.

I am looking forward to finding my family members, most specifically my grandparents, in the 1940 census. Both sets of my grandparents were married in August 1940, so at the time the census was taken, on April 1, all four of them were single, and my grandmothers were still living with their parents in Little Falls, Minnesota. I also particularly want to locate my immigrant ancestors and find out whether the information provided tallies with what I think I know now. I’m not expecting great revelations in this census but I am looking forward to a new genealogical resource — one that connects me a bit more to my grandparents and older generations of my family that I knew and now remember.

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