It was 9 a.m. on Monday morning, April 2nd along the east coast and I started by searching on the newly released 1940 US Federal Census on Ancestry.com. The only locations with images available at that point in time on the first day were nine states (California, Delaware, Indiana, Maine, Nevada, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Virginia). There were also five districts and territories of the U. S. available. One of which was the Panama Canal Zone.
Fortunately for me, I knew my father was stationed in the U. S. Army in the Panama Canal Zone in 1940. So after calling up the Panama Canal section, I selected from the drop down the county of Balboa, the district of the Albrook Field Military Reservation, which I already knew my father was stationed at. Now page by page, a total of 48 page images for this district I went through looking for my father’s name. The names were not all in alphabetical order but possibly by barracks.
On page 35, there his name appeared but also with a middle initial of ‘J’. Only he did not have any middle name. Then I realized the ‘J’ had to stand for ‘Junior’ which he was. It had his age as 34 which was correct for when the census was taken, in this case it was enumerated by John W. Wade on April 17, 1940. It had that he had reached the 9th grade in his education, a common situation for youngsters in the 1920s. It gave his weekly hours of work as a corporal in the U. S. Army as 40. Since this particular census form was a listing of active military personnel, there was not some of the other questions answered, like where individuals had lived in 1935.
The two strangest answers recorded was that my father was listed as single and that he was born in Massachusetts. The actual birth location of my father was of Manchester, England, which I had already been able to learn back in 2001 when I got copies of my grandfather’s naturalization papers. He had stated that his children, including my father, had been born in England and had not come to America until 1914. Getting the birth registration from England confirmed that information. Only the 1920 census had my father listed as born in England. His 1930 census, as did all his military and other governmental papers stated Massachusetts as his birth place. I have never been able to learn why this was done.
The other strange answer was that he was single. In fact with marriage records as proof, my father was actually married, had been since January 1939 to his first wife. His second wife was my mother whom he married in 1949 after his divorce in 1949 to his first wife. My only guess of why he was written as ‘single’ on this 1940 census was that all the names do appear to come from a military roster. Since his first wife was still living in Rhode Island and not with him in Panama, he was listed as single as were all the other men in the barracks.
So my first search into the 1940 census demonstrates, as it does in any other census or document, not everything written on such a form is absolutely 100% correct. However, it is great fun to see that has been written about our relatives more that 72 years ago.
Ancestry.com has 3.8 million images to get online then the massive task of getting every name indexed. Ancestry.com is allowing a free search of those early 1940 census images until April 10th. So there is a lot yet to discover.