(The following article was written by the newest member of our reference department, Alison Zaya. Alison is an experienced and knowledgeable reference librarian who worked for a number of years at the Nashua Public Library. We're very happy to welcome her to the PML team! If you have questions or comments on this article you can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Did your grandparents move during the Great Depression? Was an aunt or uncle you’ve been trying to track down born in 1931? For 72 years, the individual records from the 1940 Census have been sealed. On Monday, April 2 at 9:00 a.m. the records will be available for your perusal.
In addition to questions regarding name, age, gender, race, education, and place of birth, census takers asked occupants if they owned or rented their home, its value, and whether the home was on a farm. They recorded respondents’ occupation and employment status for the week of March 24-30, 1940, as well as their income for the previous year. Citizenship for the foreign born was noted, as was the person’s residence on April 1, 1935. This information could be particularly insightful for a family that moved often. For each census form, two people provided supplementary information. Approximately 5% of census takers shared the place of birth of their parents, their native language, veteran status, and whether they had a social security number. Married women were asked if they had been married more than once, the age at their first marriage, and the number of children born. I find these last questions, as well as the instruction to enter “infant” if a child under one year had not been given a name, particularly interesting. The National Archives website has a list of the questions asked as well as a blank census form.
You may be tempted to log on to your favorite genealogy site at 9:00 on Monday. After all, it has been 10 years since the 1930 records were unveiled. Despite the availability of the records, finding what you want may be difficult for a while. The 1940 census records are not yet indexed; thus, name searching is not possible. Some genealogy sites, including Ancestry.com, will be working to index the census once it is released. In the meantime, you can use enumeration districts (geographic areas assigned to census takers) to locate people, but it is a more complicated and time consuming process. More information about the enumeration districts is available on NARA's website.
If you want more information about the 1940 census, take a look at the following websites:
- The National Archives, which includes an FAQ about the census
- Archives.com, which is hosting the census website for the National Archives, and the Archives.com blog
- The United States Census Bureau
- The US Census Community Project, which is working to index the 1940 Census
- Pollard Memorial Library’s Online Research Database page, which has a link to Ancestry Library (in library use only)