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.

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