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.)
Posted: November 18, 2011.

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