By Megan M. Isely, La Crosse Public Library Archives
Why will genealogists be rejoicing at 9:00 am. (ET) on April 2, 2012? After the “wait for 72 years to protect people’s privacy” time span the 1940 United States census will be released for public use.
The 1940 census will be released as digital images by http://www.archives.com/, the hosting partner who won the contract with the National Archives to host the images for free. Ancestry.com and https://familysearch.org/1940Census will also have copies with Ancestry.com saying that they will provide free access through 2013. The most important thing to remember, though, is that there will be no name index at the beginning. Users will not be able to look for Aunt Sally or Grandpa Smith by name as they can do with the currently available indexed censuses.
What tools are available to help users prepare?
The census will be way pointed/indexed by location only. The easiest way to do this is locate the ancestor in the 1930 census and then try to find the ancestor’s 1940 location from that place. Steve Morse’s site http://stevemorse.org/census/1940census.htm has information and helpful tips on how to carry out this process.
Users can also help themselves by volunteering for FamilySearch’s indexing efforts at https://familysearch.org/1940Census. The more volunteer indexers that are working the faster the index will be created. Representatives from FamilySearch were talking about this at the Federation of Genealogical Societies conference that I attended in September 2011. They hope to provide the means and the organization for volunteers to index the census in a matter of months, if enough people volunteer.
Anyone who was doing genealogy 10 years ago remembers when the 1930 census was released. On their site Ancestry.com was showing a picture of their representatives who flew to Washington, DC, picked up the microfilm, and flew back to Utah so that the film could be scanned and put online, with the indexing following as quickly as possible. It was a huge deal for the genealogy community and the splash for this census will be just as big.
At the 2011 conference in Springfield, Illinois I was stopping in the hotel’s business center every morning so I could use one of their two computers to check my email (for fifty cents a minute because I don’t have any portable devices to access free Wi-fi). The morning of the keynote speech and opening conference general session I found both computers occupied: one by a distinguished looking gentleman and the other one by someone’s suit coat on the back of the chair. When I asked him if he knew if the other person was coming back he took his coat and said he had tried using that computer to print his boarding pass but had trouble with the computer. I empathized because I had already had issues with the computers, sat down at the free machine and swiped my credit card so I could go online and clear email. We briefly chatted and the gentleman turned out to be the keynote opening speaker, the Archivist of the United States. When I said I hoped there would be no server problems when the 1940 census was released he said that he had hired a new CIO and charged this person to make sure that the servers did not crash. I hope the Archivist of the United States is right and that archives.com is up to the challenge.
Other helpful 1940 census links
The 1940 census information page from the National Archives includes information about census questions asked, instructions for enumerators, and other information http://www.archives.gov/research/census/1940/
The 1940 census order page from the National Archives provides a way to order copies of the 1940 census as either digital images (less expensive and pre-orders are allowed) or on microfilm. http://estore.archives.gov/Category/105_1/1940_Census.aspx Many genealogical libraries and institutions decried the fact that the National Archives was only going to release the 1940 census as digital images and not on microfilm. Someone listened.