Genealogy Wise

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Preparing for the Release of the 1940 Census

By Erin Bradford

You are hereby cordially invited to discover your ancestors in the 1940 census this Monday morning April 2nd


Who – your ancestors

What – release of the 1940 census

When – April 2nd 9am EST

Where -

How – how to come prepared




The 1940 census will be released to the public in just about 83 hours on Monday April 2, 2012.  A lot of websites have had information up about the census and I wanted to share with you what I have learned as a genealogy librarian.




First off, what makes the 1940 census different than the others?  There is actually quite a bit.  First of all, the 1940 census will be released only in electronic format – no microfilm. 


Secondly, it is the first census to use sampling.  All those enumerated where asked 34 questions, 5% of the population were asked additional questions as a form of sampling.  This is part of the reason it is considered the first modern census.


Another difference is the 1940 census was the first to have a PR campaign.  There were tons of advertisements, some movies even. 


There was also a bit of an agenda with the 1940 census…the Government wanted to know if the New Deal was working.




Regarding questions asked, everyone was asked information such as name, relation to the head of the household, gender, race, age, marital status, if in school, place of birth, citizenship,


employment status, whether owned or rented and amounts, and whether they lived on a farm, and 2 questions regarding debt due to mortgage - totaling 34 questions.


Supplemental questions asked include the place of birth for parents, earliest languages spoken in the home as a child, if they were a veteran or the wife, widow, or child of a vet,

3 questions regarding social security (not the actual number though), and 3 questions for women who have been married.


New questions for everybody include the highest grade in school completed, their residence on April 1, 1935, under employment, they asked if the person was assigned to a New Deal program for employment or if seeking such assignment, and income in 1939.




Who was asked the supplemental questions?  Because they used sampling, it isn’t always easy to know, but the sampling questions were asked predominantly to those who fell on  lines 14 and 29




The 1940 census form can be downloaded or printed from the NARA website at  It is a legal sized document 2 pages long.  Ancestry also has a form that is letter size, but I don’t like it…


If you prefer letter size, Ancestry’s form can be downloaded and printed here:


Nara does have an option to fill out the form online, but note that you can only print those out, you cannot save them to your computer once you’ve filled them out.




Ok, so now we know the questions and how to get a blank form, the digital census will be indexed, right?  Yes….but probably not for about a year or so!  They say 6 months, but I’m skeptical.  That means you will have to search the old fashioned way – line by line!


However, there are some tools out there to help you! 


First of all, you need to know where they lived.  Since 1940 was only 72 years ago, if they are still living or anyone who may know is still living such as a sibling, etc., you can ask them.


Remember back when we first started and we asked our grandparents and parents questions to get the ball rolling?  Well, with this census, it’s time to go back to the basics if at all possible and find out where they may be living. 


They don’t know or not living?  Ok, another thing to think about – if you know where they were living in 1930 (ED number and street address) and they probably did not move, you can use a tool to convert the ED from 1930 to the ED for 1940


Steve Morse created such a conversion tool!  Go to and scroll down to the section “If you know the 1930 ED” and fill in the information from the 1930 census. 


It will then tell you the corresponding ED on the 1940 census, in some cases, a 1930 ED was broken into 2 or more sections, so there might be multiple EDs to search.


For example, with my grandfather’s parents who lived on Hill Street in Champaign, IL, I know from oral history I did with them as a kid that his parents died while still living in that house and his father was still living in 1940. 


The ED for the 1930 census for them is 10-21.  Using this tool, I know that the same ED is broken into 10-13 and 10-14, so I will have 2 EDs to search for them.  – Yes, I know this is NC chat, but my NC line is complicated in 1940.




If you know they moved between 1930 and 1940, there is still help!  Again, knowing the street name is most helpful.  If you know the state, county, and town they lived in, try Steve Morse’s “Finding ED Definitions in One Step”




Another example is with my grandmother’s parents who lived in IL – I know they moved around a lot.  Great Grandpa was a carpenter who would buy run down houses, move the whole family there, sometimes out of state, fix it up and sell and then start all over again.


By 1930 though, he had settled into Champaign, IL.  In the 1930 census, he was living on University Ave. in Champaign, but I know they moved to the area of present day John Street, which did not exist in 1940 – the street changed names around 1945.


Using Google maps, I can see all the other streets in the area and then go back to the “Finding ED Definition” and search for streets in the area of where they lived and then when the census is released on Monday I can search in those EDs.




If you know a street name, you can use the same page “Finding ED Definitions” page and enter the name of the street as a keyword.  Don’t add the North, West, etc. and don’t add St. Ave. Rd., etc. – what they are called now is not necessarily going to be the same.




You also might be able to find where your ancestor was living using such tools as city directories  - the State Library of North Carolina has city directories for some of the larger cities in the state…


Such as Asheville, Charlotte, Durham, Greensboro, New  Bern, and Raleigh.  You can contact the State Library to see if they can find your ancestor in the census.  A lot of local public libraries also have city directories for their locality.




Another thing you can do to narrow the ED if you are given 2 possible EDs to search is if you have a street address (street and house number from 1930 census or from oral history), see if you can access the Sanborn Fire Insurance maps for that area.


For my NC line, I have ancestors who were living at 265 E Street in North Wilkesboro, Wilkes County, NC in the 1930 census.  Our library provides access to the North Carolina Sanborn maps so that I was able to locate where on E Street 265 would have been


(the Sanborn map was a year or 2 before 1930 and did not show 265, only up to 255, but knowing the area and where that is today, I was able to figure out generally where it was located)


Next, look at the Enumeration District maps for 1940 for that area from the NARA website.  (more on that in a bit)  Since I know she lived between the intersecting blocks of 5th St. and 6th St., I am able to narrow the ED from 97-17 and 97-18 to just 97-17.


Of course you can always just wait for the census to be indexed. 




So I mentioned the Enumeration District maps.  Those are available on the NARA website.  Go to and in the search box, enter your query as: “1940 census maps [county] [state abbreviation]” 


And you can narrow it down to the town by typing “1940 census maps [county] [town][state abbreviation]” *note, not all towns have their own maps, it’s more the larger cities that have their own maps. 


If they only have a county map for the town you are looking for, look for the town on the county map and then zoom into the street level for the town.


A search term for my ancestor below is Wilkes County would be ““1940 census maps Wilkes NC” or “1940 census maps Wilkes Wilkesboro NC” (the town was North Wilkesboro, but I left off the North – the map still went straight to North Wilkesboro




So, where can we access this census anyway??  Nara has a dedicated website for the 1940 census at  You can go to the page now, but all it is, is a video about the census.  The site will go live 9am EST on April 2 (Monday) – and it’s free.


I am worried that with so many people going to the site at 9am EST that the site my crash or be extremely slow.  NARA says it has taken measures to prevent that, but I’m still a bit skeptical. 


If it is slow when you go on, it’s probably due to high traffic.  Take a break and try again preferably at a time folks will be in bed (early morning) or at work.  I would guess the highest times will be around lunch and in the evenings.


Other sites like ancestry will eventually have the 1940 census as well, but NARA will be the only site with the entire census available on Monday. 


NARA also realizes we want more than just to look at the census and they have prepared for that.  You can download and save images to your computer, you can share via social media such as facebook,


You can bookmark specific pages and either email to yourself or to others, or you can create an account on the site and save specific pages to your account.




A note about this census is it uses a lot of codes.  Almost all of them are listed on NARA’as blank form, but not for column 25.  4 main codes were used: H=housework, U=unable to work, S=Student, and Ot=other




Other resources: 


To read more about the 1940 census, visit the State Library of North Carolina’ Genealogical Services page and there is a link underneath the picture.


Visit the Census Bureau’s website about the 1940 census: and also view the 1940 abridged instructions  to enumerators -


Also, at the Census Bureau, they held a webinar for the press today to introduce them to the 1940 census and our library had the inside scoop ;o) (a friend with the press sent me the link) -


And finally, need some excuses to get away from family and friends so you can search the census?  Try these!




Hope you have learned some new information tonight.  The source of information comes from a variety of sources, but mainly from the Census Bureau, NARA, and my coworkers  at the library who told me about the Steve Morse site.


I’ve spent the past few weeks getting ready myself so also put in some tidbits of what I learned (like not including “west” or “street” to street names and also about the Sanford maps which I realized after recently looking at them)




Also, if you will be in the Raleigh, NC area on Monday April 2nd, be sure to stop by the State Library of North Carolina at 109 E. Jones Street for our 1940 census party!  Party will last from 11:00am (EST)- 1pm (EST)


There will be 1940 period music, current events, census films, and clothing and toy displays from the North Carolina Museum of History as well as guest speaker Kelly Karres from the Atlanta Regional office of the U.S. Census Bureau. for invitation and information on the party.  Hope to see you there!

Last updated by Gena Philibert Ortega Mar 30, 2012.




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