I am so excited, in just 5 days the 1940 census will be released to the public!! For genealogists and others interested in researching their family tree this is a huge deal. Mark your calendars! On April 2, 2012, after the mandated 72 year wait, detail collected by the 16th United States Census will be available to the public.
Over the past 72 years America has really changed. The US Census Bureau has created an infographic displaying some very interesting comparisons of America 1940 vs. 2010. From population size, education, top industries, to details about housing- it was a different world! For example, in 1940 78.9% of rural/farm households had an outdoor toilet, only 17.7% had running water, and only 31.3% had electricity! Click here to take a look, I found it very interesting! This time period was a turning point in American history, just getting through the Great Depression and right before WWII.
You might be wondering what information can be found in the 1940 census. The standard census information was taken: address, name, gender, age, education, place of birth, and occupation. A new feature to this census was an indication (circled X after the name) of who in the family was giving the census information. Another interesting new feature is the additional questions for individuals on lines 14 and 29. If your ancestor just happened to be the person occupying one of these 2 lines of the census page, they were required to give more detailed information. Such as: birthplace of father and mother, language spoken at home early in childhood, if a woman- has she been married more than once? If so, age at first marriage. You will find this information at the bottom of the census page. I'm really hoping I find an person on one of these lines! There are 40 lines (or people) to a page, and as it turns out about 5% of the population were required to answer these additional questions. To download a blank 1940 Census Form and see the questions and format for yourself, click here.
How can you get your hands on the 1940 census? A few ways, for free! Ancestry.com will be offering the 1940 census for FREE through the end of 2013. You will be able to search through the 1940 census AND view the original images. On Ancestry.com you can always search for free, but unless you are a subscriber, you normally can't see the original document (where most of the details are located). Familysearch.org is another site you will be able to search for free. Both of these sites indicate that they are working to release the databases with a name index, meaning you can search through the records with a persons name to locate them.
The National Archives will also have the census available on April 2, 2012 at 9am, but here they will not have a name index. Instead, you will search by enumeration district. To know the enumeration district, you will have to know the individuals address. To learn how to search this way and how to compile this information before April 2nd, please visit the National Archives "Start Your 1940 Research" page. You might wonder why you would go through all the trouble of using this method for searching when ancestry.com will have a name index. Sometimes names are misspelled, either by the census taker or the person transcribing a document. So if you have trouble locating a person by name, go ahead and try using their address to find them!
After writing this and learning all this great information, I'm even more excited! I'm going to start getting myself ready for the release by making a list of everyone I"ll be looking for on April 2. If you have any questions, tips, or resources you'd like to share, PLEASE contact me or leave a comment!