It may be jumping the gun to write about it, but this last week was an exciting milestone. It is now less than one year before the 1940 US Census will be released. For the first time NARA (the National Archives and Records Administration) will be releasing a digitized version of the census at their facility on the day the census is released, April 2, 2012.
Censuses are taken every ten years in the United States and are one of the most used genealogical records. They contain information about family relationships, country or origin, approximate birth and marriage information, occupation, physical address, and many other important pieces of information.
For privacy reasons the censuses are not released until 72 years after they are taken. April 2, 2012 will be 72 years since the census was taken in 1940. The 1940 census will be a great source because of the richness of the information, but also because it is a record that helps to bridge from living to dead ancestors. It is likely that living individuals today will either have a parent or grandparent on the 1940 census, or perhaps be on the census themselves.
Each time one of the new censuses is released there is a flurry of activity as researches look to add another source to help track their families through time. The census provides a wealth of information, including:
•Location of individuals
Names and relationships of everyone in the household
Value of home and whether they own or rent
Whether the family lives on a farm
Relationship to head of household
•Color or race
Whether they attended college and highest grade completed
There is also information on where the individual lived in 1935
Given that the country was still in the midst of the great depression in 1940, some of the information about employment will be very interesting. There is information on who is employed and how many hours they worked. It also asks whether the individual was participating in one of the government work projects (WPA, NYC, CCC). There is also occupation and salary information.
If you are lucky to have one of your ancestors on line 14 and 29 of the census forms there is additional information gathered, including the birth place of their father and mother, what language was their mother tongue, whether they were a veteran, whether they have a social security number, occupation information, and for women who are or have been married whether this is their first marriage, their age at their first marriage, and the number of children ever born.
It will be interesting to watch how soon the index will be available. On April 2, only the images will be viewable. An ancestor can be found from the images, but it can be a time consuming experience. It is certain that an index will be created and it will be fun to watch how long the index takes to be created.
Before we know it another year will have gone by and the census will be a part of our research. For those who are looking for a way to connect from their living memory to past records this will be an invaluable record set. For everyone it will be interesting and illuminating. I can’t wait!