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Trent Toone, Deseret News
Virginia Bartelt and her husband, Paul, index names from the 1940 U.S. Census in the Riverton FamilySearch Library, on April 12, 2012.

RIVERTON — In 1940, 7-year-old Virginia Bartelt and her parents lived at 2016 East Hawthrone Street in Tucson, Ariz. Her father was a border patrolman and her mother was a seamstress. Bartelt, an only child, had a cat she initially named Figaro and later changed to Silver. The neighborhood boys used to play football on their front lawn.

“It was a good time of my life,” said the now 79-year-old woman, an expression of fond reflection on her face. “One of the better times of my life I can speak of.”

Bartelt reminisced about 1940 while sitting at a computer in the Riverton, Utah, FamilySearch Library, where she and her husband, Paul, were indexing names from the 1940 U.S. Census records released on April 2.

The Bartelts were two of hundreds who attended an open house kickoff event Thursday hosted by the Salt Lake City Area Family History Advisors and the Riverton FamilySearch Library for those interested in assisting to digitize or use the census records for genealogy.

Those who attended the open house were offered beginner and specialized classes on indexing, arbitration and how to do different aspects of family history work.

There was a colorful display of items from the 1940s, including photos, newspaper clippings, military uniforms and farm equipment. After getting a chance to snack on refreshments and put their names in for a door prize, patrons then had an opportunity to put those new indexing skills to work with 1940 census records in the library.

Suzanne H. Curly, director of the Riverton FamilySearch Library, said the community campaign to create a searchable online database for the census is going better than expected. As of Tuesday, more than 17 million of roughly 132 million census records had already been indexed. If the trend continues, Curly said, the database could be ready sooner than September.

“The response has been tremendous. It’s been exciting for people as they’ve started to explore what is in the 1940 census,” Curly said. “A lot of people are finding their grandparents, parents and even in some cases, themselves. They are putting together some pieces of family history they just haven’t had prior to this time. The 1940 census gives a lot more detailed information than censuses prior to that point.”

Leslie Malone of Kearns attended the open house to learn as much as she could about family history.

“The indexing sounds very interesting,” Malone said. “I love finding about my ancestors and I think other people feel that way too.”

The Bartelts feel that way. The couple served an LDS mission in Germany where they indexed German documents. Virginia said she and her husband make a good team.

Her husband mostly agreed.

“We work together as long as we don’t fight,” Paul said, smiling.

Viriginia has taken a few courses on handwriting, has indexed one document in Russian and others in German gothic.

“Don’t ask me to do Arabic or Chinese,” she said laughing.

In searching the 1940 census, Paul found his family in Wisconsin. Virginia's family moved a lot from the South to California. She found her family home and the block where they lived in Tucson, Ariz., and she recognized the names of all her neighbors.

“Family history work is fun, it’s educational and it helps other people,” said the woman in a red flannel shirt with black-framed glasses. “I love censuses, I love history. If you like crossword puzzles and mystery stories, you’ll make a good genealogist because you have to find what’s missing. I really enjoy it.”

For more information on the 1940 U.S. Census project, visit the1940census.com. FamilySearch also has genealogy and 1940 census information.

Email: ttoone@desnews.com Twitter: tbtoone