Saturday, April 16, 2011

1940 Census Sneak Peek for Genealogists

"The Census Enumerator"
Norman Rockwell, 1940
Does the date 2 April 2012 mean anything to you? It is the date the National Archives will release their digital version of the 1940 Federal Census. No microfilm, digital images! There won’t be an index, but you can expect that after the release date and other commercial enterprises will begin transcription and indexing projects as soon as possible.

So, in April 2012 how will you find your ancestors on the images? What information will be available? What is new or different about the 1940 census? At the NERGC conference last weekend I went to a well attended lecture on the upcoming 1940 census by Jean Nudd, an archivist at the Pittsfield, Massachusetts regional NARA facility. She had piles of handouts, and a well written syllabus, and an audience on the edge of their seats!

These are the major changes I found on the 1940 census form. If you look at the forms and information on the NARA website, I’m sure you will find many other changes of interest…

1. The 1940 enumerators conducted a population schedule, agriculture schedule and a housing schedule (with questions about homes similar to the farm and business schedules you may have seen in earlier censuses). Although this schedule would be of great interest to genealogist because it asked questions about rentals, mortgages, home values, heating, etc, you will not see it. It was disposed of by NARA.

2. One of the questions asked was “where were you in 1935?” This is a great clue to migration trails, and a nice way to track your ancestor midway between two censuses!

3. Employment questions. Remember that this census was taken at the end of the Great Depression. In taking so much statistical information for government purposes, they also left a genealogical goldmine for us in 2012! I counted thirteen columns of questions about employment on the 1940 form, including wages, or income derived from non-wages, or persons doing “Emergency Work” such as the CCC or WPA projects.

4. It identifies the person furnishing the information to the enumerator! Now we know who to blame for information that doesn’t match vital records.

5. Each person enumerated listed their highest grade of school completed.

6. On each page of 40 people, two random people were chosen to answer a list of supplemental questions for statistical purposes. This meant that 5% of the population was surveyed. Cross your fingers that one or two of your family members were chosen! This survey asks about a dozen extra questions, including parent’s birthplace, veteran’s service, and the new national insurance plans including Social Security (new in 1940).

Since the census won’t be indexed for a while, you will have to browse towns or enumeration districts to find your ancestors. There are aids to identifying those districts by using street maps, see the link to Steve Morse’s website below. This only works if they were living in the same home in 1930 and 1940. Otherwise, you can use town or city directories or old 1940 phone books to identify your ancestor’s street address.

Don’t forget, if you absolutely, positively can’t wait until 2 April 2012, you can always pay $65 to NARA for a transcription of one person on one census. You must be the person named in the search, or legal heir (provide a death certificate) See this link for more information for an “Age Search Service” of the 1940 to 2000 census records

There is a link to some great short films at the NARA website at   These were public newsreels and training films for the 1940 enumerators. They will give you a good preview of some of the questions the enumerators had to ask, and the types of answers you will find listed on the 1940 census forms. They are curiously humorous as well as being educational! Some of these films are also on YouTube.

Important Links:    for information on the 1940 census click on “1940”   an alternate website about the 1940 census release, they even have a Facebook group you can join for the latest news!

Blank 1940 population schedule forms (use these as worksheets)   Steve Morse’s website to help you find the enumeration district of your ancestors in 1940, if they still lived in the same house as they did in 1930.   Lists the questions on the 1940 population schedule form

Other Genealogy Blog Posts about the 1940 Census:

Leah’s Family Tree (formerly Internet Genealogist) at

Before My Time

NARAtions, the official NARA blog

Copyright 2011, Heather Wilkinson Rojo


  1. Hi,
    I want to correct an impression that we are only providing a cross index between 1930 to 1940 ED numbers on the Morse One Step website. We are actually going to produce 5 utilities. One is the cross index. Another is a fully searchable index to all communities under 50,000 in 1940; you can search by community name, boundary street name, and institutional names. A third is an ED Finder for all cities over 25,000 and many below this mark. Come to the Large City ED finder with an address in one of these large cities, and we will tell you now what the ED is. We cover 70% of urban areas, and I continue to add cities to the databases. We also have a utility on street name changes, and one showing what streets and institutions are within a given city ED #. So we are in good shape, if one has a location. Again, we offer, freely accessible, more than the 1930 to 1940 correlate.
    Joel Weintraub

  2. well, Heather, great post, and I love the comment too. Always great to have someone magnify the information. Just wish we didn't have to wait until 2012

  3. Ooh, I can't wait!
    Thanks for all your wonderful information.

  4. Thanks for this ...cant wait ...must check up on late husbands family in 1940

  5. Thanks for the great recap. Less than a year! I'll finally get to see my grandparents on a census, can't wait:-)

  6. Thanks... so much useful information to start thinking about!

  7. Heather,

    You've got me so excited about it (even more than before if that's possible!).

    I noticed one url seems to have changed:

    I'm not sure exactly what it was linked to, but if it's the main page on the archives I think it may be:

    Thanks for the inspiration and awesome information! You're my "Follow Friday" for tomorrow! :)

  8. Thanks so much, Cheryl, for both the mention on your "Follow Friday" and for being my editor today. My regular editor is away on a business trip! LOL!

  9. You have piqued my interest in the 1940 census. Thanks for a great summary and links to resources.