Thursday, April 26, 2012

Quality Trumps Quantity - Indexing Insights

I've submitted 23 batches from ten states of the 1940 Census that I have indexed. This might not seem like a lot to some of you, but I have maintained an average accuracy rating of 99% and learned a few things along the way to maximize my indexing time (i.e. index quickly) and ensure a high degree of accuracy.

First, read the field helps and project instructions before you start indexing any new project. Then, you MUST read the project updates and check them frequently for additions. This is crucial. The project updates are created after the project has been released and provide clarification and additional detailed instructions. They also have a link to a presentation on "How to Index the 1940 Census" and a link to "Lists of US Counties and Cities" (helpful to find the correct spelling of a place name) under the Additional Helps tab. Be sure to click on all the tabs to see if there is anything new in them. The 1940 Census Project Updates are accessible from the Project Instructions tab when working on your batch. Yes, this takes time, but if you don't read the instructions you have no hope of accurately indexing.

Second, don't get discouraged if an arbitrator disagrees with you when you have read the instructions and s/he obviously has not. Just click on the Feedback link and check the Please Review button and trust that eventually the arbitrator will learn the rules. Then go on and keep indexing as accurately as you can. FamilySearch is working on a way to communicate the arbitration errors to us. Yes, I confess that I am also an arbitrator and I know I have made a few mistakes which I realized after reading the project updates (and, I might say, was completely mortified when I learned I erroneously marked some hapless indexers wrong when they were indeed right). I hope we will receive feedback similar to the indexing arbitration results as I would love to learn from my own mistakes.

Third, adjust those highlights! Highlights are available for the 1940 Census project and if you don't use them or if they are not aligned properly you will lose your place and index a value from the wrong person or field. To adjust the highlights, select View from the menu bar and check "Adjust Highlights." Then, zoom your batch out to about 25% and align the highlights by moving the handles up, down, right, or left. Go back to the View menu and uncheck "Adjust Highlights" when you are finished. Otherwise, they may jump around a bit while you are indexing. You will also want to zoom in to your preferred magnification (I like at least 75% and sometimes 100%). There is a short (2:40 minutes) video on Youtube on adjusting the highlights that may be helpful.

This reminds me of another tip to increase your accuracy...Fourth, don't be afraid to zoom in on the page so that the writing is easier to read. Sometimes I need to zoom into 100% or even 125% to tell if a letter is an "o" or an "a", an "e" or an "i", or if a low letter (like a "g" or "y") from the row above is making the letters below look odd. There is no disgrace in admitting that you do not have telescopic vision. Blow that puppy up as high as you need to decipher the handwriting.

My fifth, and final, tip helps to increase the indexing speed. I can index a full census page in less than 15 minutes, and that includes looking up a few values and checking the field help, project instructions or project updates when I run across something I haven't encountered before or forget how to index something. I prefer to index using the Table Entry rather than the Form Entry forms because you can speed up the indexing of some fields by doing it vertically rather than horizontally. However, if your highlights are not aligned properly, you will end up with a mess so please do not skip that step.
  1. Line Number: The indexing program automatically advances the line number by one on each row. Enter either "1" or "41" (depending on whether you are on sheet A or sheet B) then tap the down arrow key on your keyboard all the way to the 40th row. On a Windows machine, hold down the Ctrl key and tap the Home key to return to the top of the data entry form and tab over to the next column. (Sorry, I don't know the commands for the Mac.)
  2. Number of Household: This is where the alignment of highlights become important. The program automatically repeats the value of the row above in this field. Enter the first household number (remember that you can look at the previous image to get this value if it is a continuation of the last household) then tap your keyboard's down arrow key watching your highlights while doing so. When you reach the next household, change the number to the new household and continue to tap the down arrow key until you reach the bottom. Ctrl-Home to return to the top and tab over to the next column.
  3. Surname: Like the household number, the surname is repeated from the previous row. Type the surname in the first row, tap the down arrow key while watching the highlights, then type the new surname when it changes.
After this, you index across because none of the rest of the fields will automatically advance or repeat. There are a few things you can do, like selecting the Color or Race field, starting with the second row, and hitting Ctrl-D to duplicate what is in the first row all the way down. This is useful if most of the individuals that are enumerated on that page are the same race, which is usually the case. You can then go back to the exceptions, if any, and change those on a case by case basis.

If you haven't begun indexing yet, what are you waiting for? It is fun, easy, and fast. And, yes, you will probably (definitely) make some mistakes, but you will improve with practice and you get the satisfaction of knowing that you are helping a lot of people either find their missing relatives or discover some new information about them that brings them back to life. Getting started is easy...go to the 1940 U.S. Census Community Project site, click on the blue Get Started button, and follow the instructions. There are even weekly contests that qualify you to be entered into drawings to win Kindle Fires, iPads, and Visa gift cards. Go on, give it a try. The more volunteers we have, the sooner the census will be searchable for everyone.

Thanks for dropping by.


Disclosure:  As part of ambassador program this blog post enters me into a drawing for an Amazon Kindle Fire.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

MAYDAY! MAYDAY! Lost Behind Enemy Lines (Thriller Thursday)

On Sunday, December 7, 1941, Otho Masterson was at his cousin's home celebrating his 19th birthday when they heard the news on the radio: the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor.  He was working as a night watchman at the time, but due to a work reduction he was laid off in February 1942. As it so happened, the December 1941 issue of Otho's favorite magazine, Popular Mechanics, had published an article about the Boeing B-17 bombers and described all the positions of pilot, co-pilot, navigator, engineer, radio operator, and turret gunners in back. He decided right then that he wanted to be an engineer on a B-17 and enlisted in the Army Air Corps on March 19, 1942. The 384th Bomb Group was activated on December 1, 1942 with a 10-man crew; Staff Sergeant Otho Masterson was the Flight Engineer.
Otho Masterson home on leave before leaving for Europe. May 1943.

The flight engineer on a B-17 was the mechanic. He would sit in the cockpit between the pilot and co-pilot right behind the controls. But he also pulled double-duty as the top turret gunner during combat.
The 384th established its home base in Grafton-Underwood, England. Otho's crew flew its first mission on June 22, 1943 targeting a General Motors Truck Factory in Antwerp, Belgium. The Picadilly Commando, as they affectionately named their aircraft, was damaged on this mission. They flew their second mission four days later, heading for Villacoublay Airfield in Paris where a German Air Depot was located. Five planes were lost on this mission, among them the plane being flown by Otho and his crew.
B-17F Bomber. Photo: WW-II Heroes

They reached the target about 6 p.m. but did not release the bombs due to heavy clouds. Suddenly, the number one engine was hit by enemy fighters, then the number three engine was hit and they both were on fire.  The pilot gave the order to bail out at approximately 11,000 feet. The aircraft crews were told that as the Allies parachuted out of their planes, the German fighters would circle them and radio to the army guns on the ground their locations so that they would be captured almost immediately upon landing on the ground. As Otho jumped out of his plane, he was determined that he would not be spotted and decided to wait until he reached the clouds at about 2,000 feet. His free-fall was the most amazing experience he experienced in his life. He was on his back at about a 45 degree angle with his head down and slowly circling. When he turned his head to look around, he would start to spin like a top. Otho pulled his rip-chord as he went through the clouds. He had a moment of panic when the chute did not open immediately. He must have blacked out for a few seconds because the next thing he knew he was sitting in the parachute looking at the ground.

Otho landed on the edge of the Remboulay Forest on the south side of Paris. He got out of his parachute and ran across the stretch of land to a gully where he was able to hide under some bushes. A Frenchman had seen him coming down and ran to where he left the parachute to hide it from the Germans. Very soon after, he heard German troops searching for him, but they did not find him.

Otho lie in that gully from Saturday evening to early Monday morning when he finally got up and walked to the edge of the woods. There he met a Frenchman that spoke a little English. This man told him to give him his uniform and he gave Otho some civilian cloths, a map, and some food and drink. Standing orders for all downed airmen was to find their way to Spain, turn themselves in to a policeman and get thrown in jail. Every two weeks the American consul made his rounds of all the jails in Spain, rescued the soldiers and returned them to England. Otho followed the map given to him by the Frenchman by walking only at night. Occupied France was overrun with Germans everywhere. There were only about four hours of darkness in which he could make progress towards his destination.  The food and drink lasted a few days. When it ran out, he would make himself known at the farmhouse after stopping for the day, get something to eat, and go on. He walked for almost two weeks and made it about halfway to Spain. On July 10, 1943, he stopped at the wrong farmhouse--the farmer gave him something to eat and by the time he was through eating the German soldiers were there. The Gestapo paid $400 for turning in American soldiers.

Otho was taken to Frenz Prison in Paris and charged as a spy. He was placed in solitary confinement and was fed a half a loaf of bread and a little bowl of soup a day.  The Gestapo regularly interrogated him about who helped him, gave him clothes, food, water. Every morning a minimum of 20 Frenchmen were taken before a firing squad while he was there. After enduring this for nine weeks, they placed him in the regular POW system in Germany. He weighed about 80 pounds by the time he was transferred.

It was now mid-September 1943; Otho had been shot down and reported as MIA on June 26th. His family back home still did not know if he was alive or dead. *Otho's story will be continued next week.

Seventeen year old Otho and his family are listed on the 1940 Census (see my posts I'm Making History!!! And You Can, Too! and It's 1940...Do You Know Where Your Parents Are?). You can help others find their relatives in the census by joining the 1940 U.S. Census Community Project and volunteering to index.

Thanks for dropping by.

  Thriller Thursday is a daily blogging prompt from GeneaBloggers.

Disclosure:  As part of ambassador program this blog post enters me into a drawing for a $100 Visa gift card.

*Update 12 August 2014: I had originally intended to tell this story on my blog in two or three parts. But once I really got started, it became much too complicated to publish here with my limited knowledge of formatting, etc. in this venue. Consequently, my promise to continue his story "next week" never came to pass.  

Monday, April 9, 2012

Navigating through the 1940 Census Fog

There has been so much hype about the 1940 census all over the net. It's difficult to keep up with what is going on with the 1940 U.S. Census Community Project and to get good information on how to use the census. There is one tool that is very helpful and informative, and that is the 1940 Blog.

The 1940 Blog has fun and informative articles on how our culture changed in the 1940s because of rationing and women joining the work force in droves like "The Greatest Generation" and articles on finding Famous People in the 1940s with details on how they were found...techniques that can be used in your own research. There are even weekly contests where you can win prizes like an Amazon Kindle Fire!

Visit the 1940 Blog, leave a comment on your favorite posts, and subscribe to the RSS feeds to receive new posts in your Reader. There is something there for everyone!

Thanks for dropping by.

Disclosure:  As part of ambassador program this blog post enters me into a drawing for an iPad.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

It's 1940...Do You Know Where Your Parents Are?

I do! My parents were six years old on the day the 1940 census was taken. They weren't yet living in the same county, much less the same town, but they were at least in the same state. It wasn't until their teen years that both their families moved to the town where they met.

Dad about 1940
I wrote about finding Dad's census record in a previous post: "I'm Making History!!! And You Can Too!". They lived in a small rural area and which made it easy to find them. The highest grade his parents had completed was 7th. We knew that Grandpa didn't make much past 6th grade, but we didn't know Grandma didn't either. Grandpa was always a stickler for 1940, all six of his children were in school. The oldest had completed 10th grade and the youngest, being in 1st grade at the time, had not yet completed any. It is interesting to me to note that at least four of the six children went on to some form of higher education beyond high school, which they attributed to Grandpa's love of education. Some day I will blog more about him. He was an awesome guy.

Mom with her sisters about 1940
Mom was a little more difficult to locate. She lived in the Chicago area but she wasn't quite sure exactly which town they lived in 1940. I made a few passes on the One Step tool--the first one gave me a choice of nine EDs! I finally narrowed the possibilities down to three. I found her on the second one I chose to search and she was on page 26 of 61. They were renting their home for $25 month. Grandpa only completed 8th grade, but Grandma made it through 3 years of High School! Mom was the only one of the children in school yet and she had completed first grade. I think the enumerator made an error there...she was only six years old and her birthday is in November so she couldn't have started school early. Interestingly, they lived in Des Plaines in 1935, not one of the towns we knew they ever lived in. Grandpa was a bartender in a tavern and had made $1300 in 1939. That's significantly higher than the national median for men ($956)!

Have you found your parents or grandparents yet? If not, give Steve Morse and Joel Weintraub's tool "How to Access the 1940 Census in One Step" a try. It's easier than you might think.

Thanks for dropping by.

Wordless Wednesday - How We Spent 1940 US Census Launch Day

Waiting for the 1940 Census.

Rosie Riveter's got nothin' on us!

Let's Index!

More Indexing!

How do I index that? Getting a second opinion.

Thanks for dropping by.

  Wordless Wednesday is a daily blogging prompt from GeneaBloggers.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

I'm Making History!!! And You Can, Too!

For the past several days, I have blogged about the launch of the 1940 U.S. Census. Well, it finally happened yesterday!!! Thousands of people all over the world downloaded a page from the 1940 U.S. Census and indexed it. The event was even featured on the CBS Evening News. You can read what they are saying and watch the video here.

I spent the day at the Family History Center celebrating. We played big band music, ate yummy 1940s treats, and indexed! Some of us dressed in 1940s period clothing--we even had a couple of Rosie Riveters. A few folks came in to register with the 1940 Census Community Project and to learn how to index. We weren't able to download any batches from the 1940 census until around 3:30 p.m., but we were able to practice on other projects and to teach the "newbies" while we waited. It was a truly memorable day.

The 1940 census images are incredibly clear and easy to read. I have been indexing for over a year and a half and I have never seen projects this easy. Indexing goes really fast when you can actually read it!

It was a little disappointing that the images were not accessible from the website as expected, but completely understandable. Anyone that has lived through any kind of electronic launch knows that something always goes wrong on the first day. But the good, and tired, folks at National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and were working furiously to correct the problem. I think it is mostly fixed now and they will make further enhancements today to help ensure it doesn't crash again. was also uploading the images to their website and doing it very quickly! Remember that they are offering the images for free until October 2013. You can track their progress at their 1940 Census page (click on "Browse images from the 1940 census" and scroll down to the bottom to see which states are complete, in process, or coming soon). You can also give them your email address to be notified when your state is uploaded (scroll down to the "Stay in the Loop in 1940" box and click on the underlined words " us your email address today"). But since none of my states are Completed, In Process*, or even Coming Soon! on Ancestry yet, I will not be checking out that service for a while.

I did download the image for my paternal grandparents and their family from the website this morning! I had a reasonable expectation that they lived in St. Augustine, Knox county, Illinois which is a rural area. By using the Unified 1940 Census ED Finder, I narrowed St. Augustine down to two Enumeration Districts (EDs). I then selected the radio button for "1940 Census Pages", clicked on the first ED 48-37, and was redirected to the images for that ED on the website.

Luckily for me, that ED only has 20 pages so I figured it wouldn't take too much time to go through it page by page. Luckier still, my grandfather's household was on the bottom of the first page and the top of the third page! It took me about 2 minutes to find them!

The census revealed some interesting facts about them that I was not aware of before now. Grandpa died of "cardiac exhaustion brought on by silicosis" in 1943. He contracted the silicosis from working in a pottery factory for many years. My father thought that the family moved to St. Augustine to live on a farm as farming was the only work Grandpa could do because of the illness. But the 1940 census says that he was not living on a farm, he was unable to work, and his occupation was Paster in the pottery industry. Furthermore, he owned their home valued at $1200. My grandmother was apparently the wage earner in the family that year, she was an inspector at an overall factory. She earned $565 in 1939 which is close to the median annual income for women ($592). Interestingly, my grandparents and their two eldest children lived in Abingdon, Knox county, Illinois in 1935, yet the four younger children (enumerated on the top of the next page) were living in the "Same Place" which means the same town as in 1940 (St. Augustine), but not the same house.

Downloaded census image from via One-Step tool.
Now, to get back to the Making History part. You can join the 1940 Census Project and index some census records, too. Not only will you be making history but you will also be helping others to locate their families. As an additional incentive, the 1940 Census Project has a weekly contest that qualifies participants to be entered into a weekly drawing for awesome prizes. A new challenge has been issued this week. All you have to do is download and complete one 1940 U.S. Census batch by 11:59 p.m. MST (10:59 p.m. Arizona time) on Sunday, April 8. By doing so, you will be entered into the drawing for an Amazon Kindle Fire! If you are not registered as an indexer with a society, you will also need to go to the 1940 Census Project Games and Prizes page to opt-in. Check out their blog post "Weekly Contest – Week of April 2" for details and links. When you create your FamilySearch account, please enter "Pima County Genealogy Society" as your group.

Thanks for dropping by.

Disclosure:  As part of ambassador program this blog post enters me into a drawing for a $50 Visa gift card or a Yeti Microphone.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Busting Some 1940 U.S. Census Myths

Tomorrow is the big day! At 6 a.m. Arizona time (yes, we have our own timezone), the digital images of the 1940 U.S. Census will appear online for viewing by the general public. EVERYONE in the genealogy community is really excited by this historic event.

There have been a few misconceptions out there. I've been watching some webinars and reading everything I can get my hands on and I thought I would try to clear up some of them if I can.

Everyone enumerated on lines 14 and 29 were asked the Supplementary Questions.
The “Questions Asked on the 1940 Census” at National Archives and Records Administration's (NARA's) website states: "Supplementary Questions 35-50: For persons enumerated on lines 14 and 29...." This would imply that all individuals enumerated on lines 14 and 29 are asked the supplementary questions, right? Wrong. I asked Thomas MacEntee of Geneabloggers to clarify this. He gave me a response from Joel Weintraub, co-creator of the 1940 census finder aids with Steve Morse:
"I want to correct a persistent error on the Internet concerning which lines on the 1940  population schedule are used for the sample names.  Most bloggers say it's lines 14 and 29 (and only mention 14 and 29).  THIS IS NOT CORRECT.  First, the back of the "A" page (which is the "B" side) starts with line 41, thus it can't be 14 and 29 on the back.  In fact, the 2 lines are offset on the B side of the sheet so they fall on lines 55 and 68. Second, the Census Bureau was concerned with "Line Bias" and produced ***5*** separate population forms.  80% of the forms on the A side have 14/29 lines for sampling.  The other 4 forms of 5% each have 1/5, 2/6, 3/39, and 4/40 lines on the A side for the sampling. Within an ED, all the forms are the same as to not confuse the enumerator.  The proper terminology should be that there are two designated lines on each page for the sampling.
(Robert Jenkins, 1985. Procedural History of the 1940 Census of Population and Housing, Univ. of Wisconsin Press)"
I can start searching the digital images for the 1940 U.S. Census at 6 a.m. (9 a.m. Eastern) on April 2nd.
You will be able to access the digitized census records from NARA's website,, at launch. However, it will not be searchable by name. You can view the images page by page. The 1940 Census One Step tool will help you find the ED (Enumeration District) for the people you are looking for to narrow down your search to some 3,000 names rather than 132 million.

When you find your people, don't forget to scroll down to the bottom of the page to see if they were asked the Supplementary Questions!

We can start indexing Arizona on the first day.
FamilySearch will be given the images at launch. There is substantial work to be accomplished to prepare the images for indexing. The first batches will be available sometime in the afternoon on April 2nd, with the first five states completely loaded by that evening. More states will be loaded for indexing every day with the expectation that all 50 states will be available by April 12.

Arizona is not in the first wave of states...that honor goes to Colorado, Delaware, Kansas, Oregon, and Virginia. Another five states will go up on April 3 which will include Florida and Pennsylvania (I don't know who the other three states are). However, even if your favorite state is not ready to be indexed, you can help index the other states while you are waiting. Take 15-30 minutes out of your day to help other researchers build their family trees!

The servers will crash with so many people trying to access the images at the same time. is hosting the 1940 US Census images for NARA and has been working overtime to ensure that the servers will not crash. They are utilizing the Cloud computing technology which moves users to a 2nd and 3rd and 4th server during peak times then releases those servers when the peak is gone (very techie explanation, but really awesome to think about how far technology has come in the past 10 years).

The images will be accessible on all the 1940 U.S. Census Community Project partners' websites soon after launch., FamilySearch, and will provide free and open access to the digital images, but not until they have been indexed. The indexed records will be loaded as quickly as the batches are completed. The only location you will find all the images at 6 a.m. on April 2 is is also providing free access to the 1940 census images until October 2013. They are not participating in the 1940 U.S. Census Community Project and are indexing the census independently. I don't have a timeline for their plans and their blog is down as I am writing this. I recommend you check their blog later.

How long will it take for the entire census index to be complete?
The answer to that question is entirely up to you. The more indexers, and the more time they put into it, will determine how fast it goes. According to Jim Ericson, senior product marketing manager for FamilySearch, there have been 100,000 new indexing volunteers since the beginning of the year and he expects that 80% of them will index the 1940 US Census. In addition, about 35,000 people have indicated that they wish to index the census, but they have not registered as an indexer or downloaded the indexing software yet. Approximately 20,000 people index every day, but they need 40,000-45,000 per day to complete the task within the six months they have set themselves.

How can I help?
Take as little as 15-30 minutes a day to index. Don't limit yourself to your favorite state(s) – help to index the other states, too.
  1. Go to the Pima County Genealogy Society blog post "Who's On First?" for the steps to register as an indexer and download the program.
  2. Watch the training videos at
  3. Attend a 1940 US Census indexing webinar. The schedule and instructions are at
  4. Take the indexing tutorials at the FamilySearch Indexing website.
You might want to listen to GeneaBloggers Radio Episode 60: "Ready, Set, 1940 US Census!" for more information. Thomas MacEntee interviewed Steve Morse, Joel Weintraub, Jim Ericson, and Amy Johnson Crow with a special surprise guest DearMYRTLE. The episode is available online at or you can download as a podcast to listen on your mobile device (search "BTR Geneabloggers" in the iTunes store).

Working together, well make history!

Thanks for dropping by.

Disclosure: I am not affiliated with any of the organizations listed in this post with the exception of the Pima County Genealogy Society.

Finding your family in the 1940 U.S. Census has posted a fun infographic on their US Census blog to help you remember the steps for locating your family in the 1940 U.S. Census before your family's pages have been indexed.

1940 census

Thanks for dropping by.