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Researching Family History: The 1940 U.S. Census coming on April 2

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 21 2012 5:00 a.m. MST

On April 2, the 1940 United States Census will be make its debut to the public online.

In 2002, the 1930 Census was made available to the public. The law requires for the latest census to be made available every 10 years. Now in 2012, it's 72 years since the 1940 Census was recorded.

The following information will be given on individuals and households: address, home owned or rented, if owned, the value; if rented monthly rent; whether on a farm, name, relationship to head of household, sex, race, age, marital status, school attendance, education, birthplace, citizenship if foreign born, location of residence five years before and whether on a farm; employment status; if at work, whether in private or non-emergency government work, etc., WPA, CCC, NYA, etc., occupation, industry and class of worker, weeks worked last year wage and income salary last year.

Some additional questions were asked of individuals such as age at first marriage, fertility and other topics. This census sponsored some sampling techniques of about one in every 20 persons who were asked additional questions which answers appear on the census form. Of further interest, the census will show a ranking of states according to population size.

Other websites that have information regarding the 1940 Census are: 1940 census.net, archives.gov and 1930 Census.com, which features including a map of the 48 contiguous states and the American Flag with 48 stars. Booker T. Washington, first African-American on a postage stamp.

Because of the write-ups done on this, it may be that the 1940 Census will contain even more information than any census heretofore. It should enhance migration searches by showing peoples' locations in 1935, five years before. Indeed, the collage of information will help in the research you or your researcher does for you.

The records will not be indexed by name at first, according to www.1940census.net, the importance of preparation is shown in this statement: “...a little preparation can increase chances of finding ancestors... without much trouble.”

Nearly every website that has mentioned the 1940 Census give some kind of helpful hints that would expedite searches of ancestors in the census.

History tells us at this time, that Americans were just coming out of the Great Depression of the 1930s. America would officially enter World War II Dec. 11, 1941.

It will be of great interest to find out where our relatives were living and what they were doing for an occupation and other family information.

My wife and I expect to see information on both sets of our grandparents and even some great grandparents who were still alive at the time, as well as other relatives. No doubt, we are likely to get some surprising information that perhaps we have not heard about in fact or legend. We may not have known about some of their occupations, or maybe thought it was some other occupation some ancestors had. Their academic level we may have been uncertain of.

Maybe Grandpa never told us that he repaired some classic cars as a mechanic, but we may find him listed as a farmer in the census. We may find a great uncle, for example, who had been a veteran from World War I, but he did not like to talk about the war, so we never knew until now he had served as a soldier.

Other data revealed may show that an aunt, who had died in 1942 (according to Grandma), actually shows missing in the 1940 Census two years earlier, for reasons we do not know.

The list of possibilities of new information is revealed and learned every time a census is released to the public. Sometimes, more questions than answers are generated through census search results. Other times, completely new information are found and cleared up on our ancestors.

Going back several millennia, we see the first census recorded which has survived to this day is found in the Holy Bible, namely the Book of Numbers. Makes sense, wouldn't you say? This census gave information about the tribes of Israel, as they made good their escape from Egypt under the might and power of God through Moses. The count of the census came to 603,550, which includes Moses and the princes in Israel, record all males at age 20 and on up from every tribe, except Levi.

The 1790 U.S. Census gave names of household head and township they were living in. Each census after, a little more information was recorded. From 1800-40, household head and gender of each family member was recorded in age brackets, ranging from five to 10 years.

Finally, in 1850 we have a census showing household individuals by name and age. More information is required by each new census which came along since 1850, until we have some rather detailed census information in this day and age.

We are looking forward to the unveiling of the 1940 U.S. Census. No doubt, there is much we will learn about our ancestors and relatives which will add to our family history from the census nearest our own time.

Genealogy graduate Russell Bangerter is president of Ancestral Connections, Inc. at www.ancestralconnect.com. He is a professional genealogist, author and speaker; and he is advisor to Treasured Souls To Keep, at www.treasuredsoulstokeep.com.

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