The year was 1940. World War II raged overseas; RKO Studios released “Pinocchio;” the first McDonald's restaurant opened; Bugs Bunny, Tom & Jerry and Elmer Fudd debuted; women's nylon stockings were first sold; Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected to his third presidential term; and the Chicago Bears won the NFL Championship Game.
It also was the year the U.S. Census Bureau conducted the 16th decennial census.
Now, 72 years later, the 1940 census will be available — for the first time ever digitized by the National Archives and Records Administration — at 9 a.m. Monday, meaning one and all can log onto a computer and peruse census forms at www.1940census.archives.gov.
For genealogists, the release of this census is exciting because it will be the first census to list information that had not been collected in previous population counts, and, for some, it also will be the first census to list their parents.
The first census was conducted in 1790, as mandated by the Constitution of the United States (Article 1, section 2).
A census has been conducted every 10 years since 1790 to determine the representatives a state will have, as well as to determine where federal dollars are distributed, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
While general information regarding U.S. population trends is released to the public fairly quickly after a census is conducted, personal information, such as name, address, age and names of children, is not released to the public for 72 years because of Public Law 95-416, which protects the census participant's privacy.
Curt Witcher, manager of the Allen County Public Library's Genealogy Center and senior manager for special collections, said this is the first time the National Archives will release a census digitally., In the past, institutions, such as libraries, have had to pay for a copy of the census on microfilm.
Witcher said this census “is a cool national snapshot of time,” because it was taken between the Great Depression and the start of World War II.
The 1940 census counted more than 132 million people, of whom 21 million are alive today, according to the National Archives website. With the increase in life expectancy since that time, genealogists will see more live relatives on this census than typical in the past.
What information is included in the 1940 census?
The 1940 census contains usual questions regarding name, age, gender, race, education, occupation and place of birth. Enumerators, or census data takers, listed each person who was alive at 12:01 a.m. April 1, 1940.
However, with the country recovering from of the Great Depression, the 1940 census also displays a circled “X” after the name of the person furnishing information about the family; whether the person worked for the Civilian Conservation Corps, Works Progress Administration or National Youth Administration the week of March 24-30, 1940; and income for the 12 months ending Dec. 31, 1939, according the National Archives website.
Of the 40 names listed on a census page, two individuals (listed on lines 14 and 29) were chosen to answer an additional 16 questions, including mother and father's birthplace; veteran status; Social Security information; and for all women who were or had been married, had she been married more than once and age at first marriage, the website said.
However, since the National Archives digitized the census forms only, there is no name index. Everyone, for now, will have to know where their relatives lived by finding their enumeration district (ED), or the area canvassed by a single enumerator. The ED number is listed at the top of all census pages.
Name indexing should be completed by end of the year by genealogy websites Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org, and Witcher said the local library will have additional staff available to help genealogists in the meantime.
“I think we'll see a bump (in patrons), but people will play online in their own environs,” Witcher said.
He also said FamilySearch.org is using crowdsource indexing, or volunteers from all over the country, to get the information online as quickly as possible.
The Genealogy Center will present workshops next week (see accompanying info boxes), which will give patrons resources to help find enumeration districts, as well as to provide a general overview of the census itself.
Local indexing efforts
Genealogical societies and genealogists across the country will work to index the census data to make it a more useful tool for research purposes.
*Locally, the Allen County Genealogical Society of Indiana will download images of Allen County's forms to its website's server, where 16 volunteers will log in and index the county's 155,084 residents in 1940 by name only, according to Adam Barrone, who is the webmaster for the society.
He said rural and town residents will be indexed first, with townships indexed in alphabetical order, then Fort Wayne's 11 wards will follow. The society volunteers hope to have name indexing done by May.
The society will have a link to the name index at www.acgsi.org;, Barrone said. “We've done our best to plan ahead.”
*On a statewide level, the Indiana Historical Society is referring genealogists to the National Archives' website, according to Allison DePrey, a Fort Wayne native who is collections assistant for reference services at the William H. Smith Memorial Library at the Indiana Historical Society.
DePrey also said http:stevemorse.org is a resource which can help genealogists locate certain enumeration districts, and she will present a census workshop in mid-April in Indianapolis.
*The Indiana Genealogical Society is a participant in the 1940 U.S. Census Community Project to provide a free online searchable name index. Visit www.indgensoc.org and click on “1940 Census Indexing” for more information.