Family Tree Friday: The 1940 Census

Today’s Family Tree Friday is brought to you by Constance Potter, Archivist in the Archives I Research Support Branch.

29-C-1B-18_1 1940 Census small

The 1940 census opens on April 2, 2012. For the first time, the census will be released digitally, not on microfilm.

As with other censuses, this one reflects the previous decade of the 1930s and the Great Depression. To show these changes, the 1940 census asked several new questions. Over the next year, we will focus either on a particular question or an interesting instruction to the enumerators. Because of the 72-year restriction on access to the records, we will not be able to show samples of the records until after April 2, 2012.

Who is to be enumerated: Enumerate all men, women, and children (including infants) whose usual place of residence (the place where they “live” or have their “home”) is in your district, including persons temporarily absent; all persons who are in your district at the time of the enumeration who have no usual place of residence elsewhere from which they will be reported; and all persons who move into your district after the enumeration begins and who have not previously been enumerated. Enumerate as residents of the institution all inmates of a jail, however short their term of sentence, and all inmates of a prison, home for orphans, or similar institution located in your district in which persons remain for long periods of time.

Procedure for enumeration of persons in hotels, tourist homes or camps, trailer camps, one-night lodging houses, etc.—Persons in hotels, tourist or trailer camps, missions, and cheap one-night lodging houses (flophouses) will all be enumerated as of the evening of April 8th. You are to complete the enumeration of all tourist or trailer camps, missions, and cheap one-night lodging houses in your district on the evening of April 8th, and of all hotels in your district on April 9th, except that it may be necessary to make callbacks after April 9th for hotels. If it is not possible for you to complete the enumeration of these places on the specified days without assistance, be sure to notify your Supervisor so that he may provide you with the necessary assistance.

Check back next month for another post on the 1940 census. In the meantime, check out our website for more information.

8 thoughts on “Family Tree Friday: The 1940 Census

    1. Hi Marie,

      Was Laurence Clarke Ric born in 1854? If so, the best place to start your search would be the 1860 census – it’s the first census he would show up on, and he should be listed with his parents. You can find some tips for using the census records on our website. If you don’t have any luck with that, send us an email at and we’ll try to give you some more ideas.

      – Katherine

  1. I personally try to start from the other end of their life. For example, if he passed away after 1930, I would look in the 1930 census, then 1920, etc. collecting clues about his life as you go backward in time. It does make it easier if you have a little more information about children, spouse, siblings, parents, locations where lived, etc. as well.

  2. When the 1940 Census is released, will it be indexed? I know that in the past an indexed version took a while to become available.

    1. Hi Sally,

      The 1940 census will be indexed to the enumeration district level, but not by name. The Census Bureau didn’t create a name index, and we don’t have the staff or the budget to create one now. It is quite likely that a genealogy subscription service (such as Ancestry) will eventually create a name index, but it will take some time.

      If you used the 1930 census when it first came out, you might remember that while there was a name index, only certain states were covered. For the other states, researchers had to go through the enumeration district line by line. You’ll be able to do the same with 1940. Our website has some guides and finding aids to get you started. We’ll update that website with more information as it becomes available.

      – Katherine

  3. It has been stated that the 1940 US Census will be available in digital format. What URL site will host the it?

    We hope it will be on the site and not one that is subscription based.

    Also when, if ever, will be the ED maps are posted on the site.

  4. I believe AncestryDotCom will be indexing the census almost immediately and will be allowing free access for a year (I think).

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