1940 U.S. census indexing project ahead of schedule

Published: Thursday, June 7 2012 5:00 a.m. MDT

A booth on the exhibit floor at the RootsTech Conference features FamilySearch staff explaining to conference-goers about recruitment for the indexing effort on Feb. 6, 2012.

Photo by R. Scott Lloyd

SALT LAKE CITY — Down the home stretch they come.

Only two months after the 1940 U.S. federal census was released, an online community of about 125,000 volunteers has already indexed more than 50 percent of the 3.8 million records. In other words, of the 132 million people who lived in the United States in 1940, more than 75 million have been indexed.

"Our online volunteers have surpassed our expectations," said Paul Nauta, spokesman for the 1940 U.S. Census Community Project.

The national service project, the first and largest of its kind, aims to establish a comprehensive searchable database and make the 1940 U.S. census records available for free on all project partner websites, including the National Archives and Records Administration, Archives.com, FamilySearch.org and findmypast.com and by ProQuest through public libraries.

“We believe that all people deserve free access to the 1940 U.S. census records so they can learn more about their family history, ancestors and the past. With the help of the Community Project partners, and especially volunteer indexers across the nation, we’re halfway to our goal,” said Megan Smolenyak, spokeswoman for the 1940 U.S. Census Community Project. “We didn’t expect to make this much progress only two months after the 1940 census records were released, so we’re excited and thankful to all of the enthusiastic volunteers.”

Of the 50 U.S. states, 18 have already had their records from the 1940 census indexed by the online volunteers, including the majority of states in the Rocky Mountain region. Several other states are more than 80 percent done or in the final stages of being completed.

According to Nauta, more than 150,000 volunteers registered to assist in the community indexing project. About 90,000 volunteers have contributed along the way — an average of 25,000 per day — and approximately 1,000 are still signing up each day, Nauta said.

"We've had a surprising turnout," he said. "There are many reasons why people are interested. Most know someone who was living in the 1940s and they are excited to be able to search for those relatives. Others have found so much joy in their family history, volunteer indexing is a way to give back or pay it forward, so those entering the hobby in the future will have quick success."

Nauta said new volunteers are still encouraged to register to help index the 1940 census and with future indexing projects. The massive project is on target to be completed at the end of summer.

"We are three to four months ahead of schedule and look forward to finishing this well before the end of the year," Nauta said. "When we are done with the 1940 census, we hope to keep volunteers on board for other exciting historical projects to keep the momentum going."

“Volunteer indexers have the unique opportunity to step into the past and read through handwritten records captured by census enumerators as they walked from house to house,” said Joshua Taylor, spokesman for the 1940 U.S. Census Community Project. “Through indexing, volunteers are essentially reliving history and helping provide others with the access they need to gain greater insights into the life and times of their own ancestors more than 72 years ago.”

To learn more about the 1940 U.S. Census Community Project, track real-time progress of volunteer indexing efforts or become a volunteer, visit the1940census.com.

Email: ttoone@desnews.com Twitter: tbtoone

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