With the recent release of the 1940 U.S. census — more than 132 million records needing to be digitally indexed for free public use — new information invaluable for family research is becoming available to genealogists.
The 1940 census will be discussed during a seminar at 7 p.m., Wednesday at the Mesa Family History Center. Michael Snow, who serves on the history staff of the U.S. Census Bureau in Washington D.C., will be the main speaker. The event is free, but reservations are recommended so the center can gauge the number of people who will attend.
The 1940 census information was not released for public use until now because of a statutory 72-year restriction on access for privacy reasons. The records were released and made available online on April 2 by the National Archives and Records in Washington.
Snow, who also has done research on the American Community Survey, plans to discuss different aspects of the census records, but more importantly, the need of indexing names within enumeration districts (neighborhoods or residential areas) to search more quickly where and how your relatives lived.
The records will open a floodgate for family history researchers and genealogists perhaps seeking information about where their grandparents lived and who all lived in the household, as well as ethnic background, level of education, type of occupation, whether they owned or rented their home, and even if they lived on a farm during a post-Depression era and just prior to World War II.
“It’s a big deal,” said Marsha Atkin of Mesa, who is helping to coordinate the seminar about the 1940 census for the Family History Center. “I’m new to this family history thing, but this 1940 census is causing quite a stir. We have people coming to the center all the time looking for information on their grandparents or relatives, and by this being made available, it’s going to open up a lot of information. It will tell you a lot about people.”
Atkin was quick to say that although these records can be accessed now through sites such as FamilySearch.com, FindMyPast.com, Archives.com, MyHertiage.com and Ancestry.com, much more work needs to be done — and it likely will be done by many volunteers in the East Valley who are avid family researchers themselves — to make these records more easily researchable.
“The big push is on to digitally index the information that is part of the 1940 census,” Atkin said. “Although the records have been released, the searches can’t be done by name, yet. Right now, you can find your ancestors by enumeration districts — if you know the area in which they lived.”
Enumeration districts are like precincts or neighborhoods, and you can see what information the U.S. census taker wrote down.
Atkin said that there already have been numerous people who have come forward willing to volunteer to help index the names at the Mesa Family History Center. The center would like to organize an “army of youth,” who might be willing to type in 100 names a week from certain cities such as Mesa, Tempe, Chandler or Gilbert, Atkin said.
“This is a national community project,” Atkin said. “There has been a lot of interest in obtaining this information. It’s been amazing. If you’re into family history, you want this information.”
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