Searching the 1940 Census
After 72 years, the 1940 Federal Population Census has been released. The census records and data specific to individual respondents are not available to the public until 72 years after a given census was taken.
For those of us searching for our family or on the front lines helping customers find their ancestor (maybe even your parent or grandparent) there are some things to be aware of:
Information about the Census
- The census was released via the National Archives website at: www.1940census.archives.gov on 2 April 2012 at 9am Eastern standard time
- When first released the 1940 Census will NOT be indexed
- Indexing will take several weeks if not several months
- To find your family, you will need to know where they were living in 1940. You will need both the address the family was living at and the enumeration district for that address to locate the correct census image. (note if your family lived in a very very rural area, browsing the county or parish images without an address or enumeration district number MIGHT be successful)
Step 1 – Search for Sources for 1940 addresses and locations
- Family Members: Interview living relatives and ask if they remember where the family lived in 1940.
- Address Books: Check to see if there are old address books available for your family.
- Phone Books: Some libraries have archived copies of phone books available.
- Vital Records: You may already have address information on birth, marriage and death certificates for your family members.
- City and Business Directories: Look both online and at libraries for directories from 1939 and 1941.
- Census Records: If your family did not move between 1930 and 1940, check for the address on the 1930 US Census, or see if the state had an off-year census with address information.
- World War II Draft Registration: Most of these records are from 1942 and beyond, starting two years after the 1940 US Census but the address information may be the same as the 1940 address.
- Obituaries and Newspapers: Death notices, engagement and wedding announcements, and local news articles are good sources of address information.
- Letters and Diaries: Look for address information on envelopes and letters; look for mentions of addresses in diary pages.
- Passenger Lists and Naturalization Records: On a passenger list, look for an address for where the person would be staying. Immigration records should have a current address for the person applying for residency or citizenship.
- Photographs: Look on the back of photographs for address information.
- Organizational Yearbooks and Newsletters: Check for addresses in any fraternal organization materials or even workplace newsletters.
- Yearbooks: Locate addresses for each graduating senior in yearbooks.
Step 2: Determine the Enumeration District
- You will need more than just the address of your family members in 1940 – you will need to translate that location into the enumeration district number since that is how the 1940 US Census images are organized.
- While having the 1930 US Census enumeration district will be useful, for many urban areas the enumeration district numbers changed between 1930 and 1940.
Step 3: One-Step Tools to the Rescue!
- Unified 1940 Census ED Finder: This tool will help you find an enumeration district for a specific 1940 location in one step: Steve Morse Enumeration District Finder: http://stevemorse.org/census/unified.html.
- Large City ED Finder: Use this tool if you already have a 1940 address for an urban area: Large City Finder: http://stevemorse.org/census/index.html?year=1940
- ED Definition Tool: Use this tool if you already have a 1940 address for a rural area: http://stevemorse.org/ed/ed.php?year=1940
- 1930/1940 ED Conversion Tool: http://stevemorse.org/census/ed2040.php?state=&year=1940
- Census Tract Tool: Displays 1940 US Census tract maps for specific urban areas: http://stevemorse.org/census/tracts.html
- Street Name-Change Tool: This tool helps determine street name changes in major cities http://stevemorse.org/census/changes.html.
- Enumeration District Maps: For the first time, NARA has made ED maps for counties and urban areas available online. You can find them at http://stevemorse.org/census/xml1940edmaps.html
Other 1940 Census Information Sources:
- National Archives and Records Administration (NARA): there are various finding aids available at the NARA website http://www.archives.gov/research/census/1940/finding-aids.html.
- One-Step Census FAQ: Steve Morse provides a comprehensive “frequently asked questions” page over at the One-Step site at http://stevemorse.org/census/faq.htm
To help index the 1940 census:
- The 1940 U.S. Census Community Project: visit https://the1940census.com/ for the latest news on the release of the 1940 US Census images as well as the volunteer indexing project. Also, check out the blog at https://the1940census.com/blog/ to help you put the 1940 US Census in historical context.
~Sue Kaufman, Manager, Clayton Library Center for Genealogical Research