Why I’m Excited About the 1940 Census

Yesterday, Archives.com announced that it has entered into a partnership with the National Archives to host the 1940 census. These images will be free to the public beginning 2 April 2012. (You can read the full announcement here.)

Top section of the 1940 census

Image courtesy of the National Archives

When it comes to the 1940 census, I’ve seen every reaction from “Oh my gosh! I can’t wait!” to “Wake me when it’s over.” Yes, there are people who aren’t excited about the release of the most current census to be made available. (There is a 72-year waiting period before a Federal census becomes public; hence, the 1940 census will become the most current census to be available starting next April.) How can you not be excited about a set of records that likely contains your family if they lived in the United States in 1940?

Perhaps those who aren’t excited are suffering from Jaded Genealogist Syndrome. They’ve researched their recent family and “know all about it.” They think that the 1940 census won’t tell them anything they don’t already know.

Really? How about these wonderful tidbits of information:

  • Residence in 1935 (yes, the 1940 census asked where the person lived 1 April 1935)
  • Salary for 1939
  • Employment status — including if he or she worked in “emergency work,” such as the WPA
  • For married women: married more than once (yes or no), age at first marriage, and number of children ever born (not including stillbirths)

This is in addition to the regular questions we expect in a census: name, age, marital status, relationship to the head-of-household, and birthplace.

About 5% of the population was asked a series of supplemental questions. (Today, we’d call this the “long form.”) This included birthplace of mother and father, mother tongue, veteran status, and if the person had a Social Security Number.

Those questions are wonderful! They might not give “genealogical” information, but they do help to place the person and the family in context. It helps to flesh them out.

It’s true that if you’ve been researching your tree for awhile, you might not have any Big Genealogical Discoveries in the 1940 census. (Then again, you might! You never know who’s going to show up in a census!) But even if there aren’t any earth-shattering facts that takes the family back to Charlemagne, there are still plenty of reasons to be excited about the 1940 census.


Notice: I am the Genealogical Content Manager and Contract Specialist for Archives.com. (However, I’m excited about the 1940 census regardless.)

Celebrating the 2nd War for Independence

While celebrating Independence Day this weekend, think about not only the American Revolution but also the 2nd War for Independence: the War of 1812.

Although England agreed to withdraw her troops as a condition of the Treaty of Paris (ending the American Revolution), British troops remained in territory claimed by the United States. Most were positioned near and around the Great Lakes, in places such as Detroit and present-day Mackinaw City, Michigan. The Shawnee leader Tecumseh was successful in forging a pan-Indian confederation which worked with the British against the Americans. War was finally declared in 1812.

Ohio was key in the War of 1812. Not only was it the site of the pivotal American victory in the Battle of Lake Erie, but she also supplied numerous troops to aid the U.S. effort.

Surprisingly, the National Archives has never microfilmed the War of 1812 pension files. They are among the most-often requested records, with approximately 3,000 of them requested every year.

Preserve the PensionsRecently, the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) announced a program — Preserve the Pensions! — which seeks to raise $3.7 million to digitize these 7.2 million pages. The files have been prepared and the digital cameras are ready to roll. The only thing the National Archives needs is the funding.

You can help. Each dollar donated to Preserve the Pensions will digitize two pages of War of 1812 pension files. Further, FGS has reached an agreement with the National Archives so that the digitized images will be freely available on the Internet — not “trapped” in a website that you need to pay for.

So as you’re celebrating Independence Day, celebrate both of the wars for Independence and consider making a tax-deductible donation to Preserve the Pensions.

FamilySearch Indexing and the National Archives

They’re at it again! This time, FamilySearch Indexing has announced a partnership with the National Archives. The press release states:

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) of the United States and FamilySearch today announced an agreement that will lead to the digitization of millions of historical documents over time. The bulk of the digital images and related indices will be freely accessible through www.FamilySearch.org, 4,500 family history centers worldwide, or at the National Archives and its Regional Centers. …

Under the new agreement, FamilySearch will be operating highly specialized digital cameras 5 days a week at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. FamilySearch intends to extend the digitization services to select regional facilities at a later date. That means there will be a continuous flow of new data for genealogy buffs to explore for years to come. It also means FamilySearch will be able to digitize the thousands of microfilms it has already created from NARA’s holdings, providing access to millions of images for genealogists to search from the convenience of their home computers with Internet access.

The first fruit of this effort is a portion of a very large collection of Civil War records, already underway. In this pilot project, FamilySearch will digitize the first 3,150 Civil War widow pension application files (approximately 500,000 pages). After digitization, these historical documents will be indexed and posted online by Footnote.com with the indices also available for free on www.FamilySearch.org. FamilySearch intends to do all 1,280,000 of these files over the coming years.

It wasn’t too long ago that we never thought we’d see records like these digitized, let alone indexed and online!