But a 1940 census index—three of them, in fact—is still being created, so knowing your ancestors’ enumeration district (ED) will be key to finding them. We’ll help you learn that crucial piece of information and take a look at what you can discover about your family from this newly available genealogical goldmine.
A tale of three indexes
Archives.com is working with FamilySearch, the genealogy division of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and British genealogy company brightsolid (owner of the website findmypast.co.uk), on the 1940 US Census Community Project. This massive volunteer effort has people around the world transcribing 1940 census returns to create a searchable index. “We would like to have 100,000 volunteers,” says FamilySearch spokesman Paul Nauta. “If we can get that kind of support, we feel we can complete the indexing project within 12 months. Our index will be double-keyed and arbitrated for maximum quality and accuracy.”
If you don’t know where the family lived, try using city directories, Alien Registration records, naturalizations filed close to 1940, and WWII draft records.
For a more hands-on approach, you can determine your ancestor’s ED by comparing 1940 maps to ED maps of the town. View the 1940 ED maps online using NARA’s Online Public Access search. Enter as search terms 1940 census maps plus the county and state, and a town name if you have one. (For a shortcut to this search, click here.) To read descriptions of EDs boundaries, search instead for 1940 census enumeration district descriptions plus the county and state (or try the shortcut here).
Not surprisingly given the Depression, several questions asked those age 14 and older about employment. For those not employed or seeking work, codes indicated home housework (H), in school (S), unable to work (U) or other (Ot). Those with jobs were asked about their occupation, industry, number of weeks worked in 1939, and income. The census asked whether each person worked for Depression-era employment programs (CCC, WPA or NYA) the week of March 24-30, and income for the 12 months ending Dec. 31, 1939.
The 5 percent
That was it, alas, for the regular questionnaire. Those whose names fell on lines 14 and 29 of each side of the form—about five percent of everyone listed—were also asked supplementary questions 35 through 50. If you’re lucky enough to have an ancestor among this five percent, you’ll also learn:
- Place of birth of father and mother
- “Language spoken in home in earliest childhood”
- Veteran status, including whether the person is the wife, widow or under-18-year-old child of a veteran. Codes used to indicate which war were: W for what we now call the First World War; S for Spanish-American War, Philippine Insurrection or Boxer Rebellion; R for peacetime regular military; and Ot for other. Social Security status, including whether the person had a Social Security number.
- “Usual Occupation, Industry and Class of Worker”—for the unemployed, this was a way to gather information on what people would be doing if they had a job.
- For all women who were or had been married, whether married more than once, age at first marriage, and total number of children not counting stillbirths.
You might wish these supplemental questions had been asked of everyone, but unfortunately this sampling technique was the shape of things to come. Only in 1980 would everyone again complete a long form. The latest census, in 2010, used just 10 questions and skipped the long form entirely. So relish the cornucopia of data released at least with the 1940 census. Future genealogists won’t be able to use the census to learn nearly as much about us—no matter how patient they are.
Those Were the Days
In 1940 …
- The US population was 132 million.
- The national debt was $43 billion.
- Average salary was $1,725 a year.
- Minimum wage was 30 cents an hour.
- A new car cost $850, a gallon of gas 11 cents.
- A gallon of milk cost 54 cents.
- A first-class stamp was 3 cents.
- Fifty-five percent of US homes had indoor plumbing.
- Life expectancy at birth was 65.9 years for females, 61.6 for males.
- The Academy Award for Best Picture went to Rebecca.
- Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood” was the No. 1 song.
- The Pulitzer Prize for best novel went to The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.