The 1940 Census Is Here! Were Your Ancestors Counted?

For genealogists, family historians and the curious, a long wait is over. The opening of the 1940 census–after the 72-year waiting period–has arrived. The National Archives decided for the first time, in this technological age, to put the scanned and digitized  images on their website so they would be literally at researchers’ fingertips. After an overload on the system on opening day (April 2), more servers were added, and we were all finding our relatives, provided we knew where they were living on April 1, 1940.

One big difference about this census is that it is NOT indexed by name. So, for those who were just hoping to go to an index, you will be a bit disappointed. However, the National Archives–with a little help from a gentleman by the name of Steve Morse–did make a searching aid that will help most of us find our relatives.  The new way of looking for people on the census is by Enumeration District (ED), the geographical area assigned to each census-taker going door-to-door to get the population counted. It works pretty well as long as the street address you’re searching for existed in 1930, as that was the guide used to make the searching aids for the 1940 census. Even heavily populated cities can be searched. Begin your search at the “Getting Started” tab at 1940census.archives.gov.

The National Archives also offers some great maps of the EDs so you can know for sure you have the right district, if you know where roads are.  This is very helpful in trying to find people in rural townships.

If you don’t know your relative’s exact street address, here are some places in your previous research you might find it: Social Security application card; family records such as birth, christening, or death records; a church directory for that time period; city directories; or even military records of WW II.

These websites offer the 1940 census for viewing:

By the way, if you want to help index the 1940 census, you can go the websites listed above and pick an organization you would like to help. Ancestry.com has announced that the states of Delaware and Nevada have already been indexed. They are available to Daniel Boone Regional Library patrons accessing the library edition of Ancestry.com at our libraries in Ashland, Columbia and Fulton.

Now go find grandpa and grandma (or yourself) and check out all the neighbors too!  You just might be related to them as well.  I’ll discuss printing what you find in a later article.  The keyword there is: DOWNLOAD, then print!

Tim is the president of the Genealogical Society of Central Missouri and teaches genealogy help classes at the library on a regular basis.

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4 Responses to The 1940 Census Is Here! Were Your Ancestors Counted?

  1. Joel Weintraub says:

    Let me correct an error in this posting. Specifically: ” It works pretty well as long as the street address existed in 1930, as that was the guide used to make the finding aids for the 1940 census. ” The 1930 to 1940 ED conversion tables were the first I transcribed for the 1940 census finder aids that Steve Morse incorporated into the One-Step site. It would take a rural or urban 1930 ED # and produce a 1940 ED #. The original idea was that we could also look up 1940 city addresses on our existing 1930 city ED files, and then make a backward conversion of the resultant ED # to 1940. That became unnecessary because, with the help of over 120 volunteers, I produced street indexes for over 1,200 1940 urban areas that appear on the One-Step large city ED finder. That finder covers 82% of the urban areas in 1940. Thus you can, with a 1940 urban location/address, use this city ED finder for over 800 cities that we didn’t cover in 1930. We have put all our utilities, including a searchable ED definition finder, on the Unified Tool at: http://www.stevemorse.org/census/unified.html
    Joel Weintraub
    Dana Point, CA
    https://sites.google.com/site/census1940/

  2. Mary says:

    Where were service men counted in the 1940 census?

  3. nextadmin says:

    If service men were living in the U.S. on a base, then they should have been counted as residents of that military base. If they were overseas, they may have been included in the number of citizens living abroad. According to census.gov, the U.S. population living abroad was 118,933 in 1940 and included military personnel at military stations abroad and their dependents living with them. However, in the 1940 census reports “there was no documentation that clarified whether overseas persons counted at their stateside residence, in accordance with the enumerator instructions, were included in the overseas count. The possibility exists that some Americans overseas may have been counted twice: once in the overseas count and again at the stateside home.” From “Americans Overseas in U.S. Censuses

  4. nextadmin says:

    Joel, thanks so much for the clarification and correction, as well as your hard work on this project! We — and our patrons — appreciate it!