Finding Your Ancestor’s 1940 Census Enumeration District

By Diane Haddad

I read about the How to Access the 1940 Census in One Step quiz on Dick Eastman’s blog this morning.

The quiz, by One-Step Tools webmaster Steve Morse and friends, is designed to guide you through the site’s tools that help you determine your ancestor’s 1940 census enumeration district (ED). This is important because, when the 1940 census comes out April 2, 2012, you won’t be able to search by name. Instead, you’ll need to find the records for the ED where your ancestor lived and view pages until you find him or her.

(If you don’t mind waiting an as-yet-unknown length of time for a searchable name index to be created, probably by FamilySearch and/or a commercial entity such as, you may not need to worry about the ED. I say “may not” because if your ancestor gets mis-indexed or the census-taker recorded his name in an unexpected way, you still might need to browse the records.)

Anyway, I tried the quiz for a spin and did indeed find the 1940 ED I needed. Here’s how it worked for me:

Question: Do you know where your family lived on April 1, 1940, the official 1940 census day?

Answer: I chose yes. This was my hint to check the address in my ancestor’s 1942 declaration of intention to naturalize:

Question: Did the family move between 1930 and 1940?

Answer: Yes.

Question: You know where your family was in 1940. Were they:

  • in a rural area or a small urban community (under about 5,000)?
  • in an urban area of 5,000 or more?
  • in an institution (hospital, jail, orphanage, etc)?
  • outside the US proper but under US jurisdiction?

Answer: They lived in Cleveland, Ohio, an urban area of 5,000 or more.

Question: Check to see if the city is on the One Step 1940 Large City ED Finder Tool. Go to this tool, choose the state or possession, and look in the city dropdown box. Do you see your city listed there?

Answer: I clicked the link to the 1040 ED Finder, chose Ohio from the state dropdown menu, and yes, Cleveland was in the city menu.

Question: OK, now to use the above One Step tool, choose the state and city and then enter the street and cross streets for the house at which your family lived.

Answer: I went back to the 1940 ED Finder, which looked like this:

I chose my ancestors’ street, Franklin Blvd, and was directed to choose a cross street.

Um, cross street? Luckily, at the bottom of the page you can enter a house number and generate a Google, Yahoo! or MapQuest map of the location, like this one:

I chose 47th W. as the cross street and was rewarded with:

The “View microfilm ” link gives you a message that the 1940 census images are not available. Looks like Morse is planning to link the ED numbers to the record images when they’re released on NARA’s website ext year.

I tried other quiz answers, too:

  • Basically, if you don’t know where your ancestors lived in 1940, you’ll get suggestions for records to check.
  • If you know where they lived in 1940 and they hadn’t moved since 1930, you’ll be directed to the site’s 1930-to-1940 ED Conversion tool (EDs changed from census to census).
  • If your ancestors lived in a small-ish town or rural area, the area may not yet be covered in the One Step 1940 ED Finder, in which case you’re directed to National Archives’ ED maps (not yet online). Those will be easier to use if you know the street address.
  • If you don’t know the address in the small-ish town or rural area, you can use the One Step ED Definition Tool to choose a state and county, then search on a community name. If the name is in the definitions, you’ll get back a list of possible EDs where you can start your census search.

Now, the trick is not losing the sticky note I wrote the ED on.

You can read all about the 1940 census in the May 2010 Family Tree Magazine‘s Complete Census Guide. Family Tree Magazine Plus members can read the 1940 census article here.