Government releases 1940 treasure trove of family data

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After 72 years, the National Archives released the 1940 U.S. Census Monday morning as LDS Church leaders encouraged members to help digitize the national list of U.S. citizens.

On Monday morning the public began viewing the documents online and began a mass effort to index the information of the 138 million people who lived in the 48 continental United States in 1940. Monday afternoon the site, 1940census.archives.gov, appeared unresponsive because of traffic to the site.

Kip Sperry, a professor of family history at BYU, said he looks forward to the first online census release. This allows anyone to view the digital format of the 1940 Census on the Internet.

“Researchers will need the 1940 address of the people being searched and then the enumeration district to locate individuals in the census,” Sperry said.

The National Archives will provide more than 3.8 million digital images of census maps, schedules and enumeration districts.

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To make the census searchable for research, three organizations are indexing the images as a joint project. The organizations include FamilySearch, Archives.com and findmypast.com.

“There will be a big push for Church members and others to index the census through FamilySearch Indexing,” Sperry said. “All indexers will be receiving emails.”

Paul Nauta, from the media relations department for the Church, said among the 105 million names, volunteers can choose a state to index.

“Many hands make light work,” Nauta said. “If we get 100,000 volunteers then we will be able to finish the project by the end of the year.”

Nauta encouraged students to participate in the index project because they “come hardwired for technology.”

FamilySearch appreciates young, middle and senior aged volunteers who are able to contribute. The census will provide another resource for people to further the work of family history.

Howard Bybee, BYU’s family history librarian, said the library concentrates on providing resources to help people do family history work. Genealogy is central to connecting people with ancestors and completing work for the dead.

He described his personal interest in genealogy.

“The spirit of Elijah is in family history and temple work,” Bybee said. “People visit the library because of their own personal interest in family history or for a class.”

Students might be interested in expanding their family history knowledge beyond the classroom after viewing the census.

Sperry said young people may be able to relate more to family history and gain a historical perspective in researching the census. Most students will be able to connect to close family members as they find information about grandparents or great-grandparents who were alive in 1940.

Since it was recorded at the end of the Great Depression and the beginning of World War II, information included in the census is geared toward employment and economy, Sperry said.

“It’s a funny thing because some [censuses] asked more questions than others,” Sperry said.

According to FamilySearch.org, the 1940 Census includes some new questions, including who in the household responded to the questions and if the person worked for the CCC, WPA or NYA during the week of March 24 -30, 1940. These organizations were public work relief efforts during the Great Depression.

For more information on the 1940 Census visit 1940census.archives.gov.

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