1940 US Federal Census - 150th Anniversary of Census

It is approaching quickly, the April 2, 2012 release date for the 1940 Federal United States Census.  For each census in the United States that has been taken since 1790 there has been a mandatory 72-year waiting period before it was released to the general public.  This waiting period was to provide privacy, especially for the adults listed in each census.

Governmental officials using the data collected in each census have had access over the years, but now other researchers and especially family historians can step back into time to 1940 and learn more about their parents, grandparents, aunts, cousins and uncles. This 1940 census is before the attack on Pearl Harbor, America’s entrance into World War II and the lost of so many soldiers.

The beginning months of the release of the 1940 census will be slow for researchers in locating relatives because the census will  not be fully indexed in a searchable format.  Knowing the location of where an ancestor lived on April 1, 1940 will help locate the proper person. However, the searchable index will be done quickly by such genealogical businesses such as Ancestry.com and the FamilySearch.com.

What can be found on this census; first will be names of each person in a household, the house and street address, value of the home, then information on each person such as occupation, race, place of birth, age, education and citizenship.  What is really special is that for each person, information was provided of where they lived as of April 1, 1935 (five years earlier).  This can be a great aid locating additional vital records (birth and marriage) by knowing where a person lived.  Also on the form were questions about unemployment, if they had been assigned to public work projects and their income in 1939.

There were supplementary questions (for only some households) such as where their parents were born, languages spoken, if they were a veteran and if they had a social security number.  Special questions for women included if they had been married more than once, their age at the first marriage and the number of children they had given birth to as of April 1940.  There were times individuals did not want to give such information especially about income to the enumerator.  So they could send in a confidential card listing their income.   Approximately 2% of the population did not answer the question.

Back in 1940 there was a big push to get citizens to complete the census form. The U.S. Census Bureau conducted a publicity drive using radio programs, newspaper advertisements, mass mailings, and teacher involvement to encourage cooperation and participation in the census. There was produced a short film shown in the movie houses titled “No Census No Feeling” and starring the Three Stooges.

The campaign was a success and the population number for the United States as of April 1, 1940 was 132,164,569.  Compare that with twenty years earlier, January 1920 and the population was 106,021,537.

So this is something to look forward to. I personally have many ancestors and living relatives who would be on the 1940 census. Start making your list today.

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