The 1940 United States Census

October 26, 2018  - by 

The 1940 United States census was released to the public in April 2012, and more than 163,000 online volunteers indexed millions of names in just four months. Why all this dedication and excitement? The 1940 U.S. census is the most recently released United States census to date. Because of this, it is extremely valuable to genealogy work.

Most people in the United States today have living memories of a family member who was documented in the 1940 U.S. census. The 1940 census records have already connected family members across the United States and have helped build many family trees. Now that the 1940 census is public record and fully indexed, you can search these census records to discover a wealth of information about your family and grow closer to them. By sharing their stories, you may also grow closer to your living family.

1930s America and Culture

How did life and events in the 1930s impact questions on the census? And what can you learn about your ancestors’ lives?

Questions on the 1940 Census

What questions were on the 1940 census form? How was it different from other U.S. censuses?

How to Read the 1940 Census

A quick reference on how to read the 1940 U.S. census and the questions asked on it.

1930s America culture

1940 US census questions

1940 census form

 


Facts about the 1940 US censusThe Genealogical Value of the 1940 United States Census

The United States Census Bureau put a lot of effort into conducting the 1940 census. More than 123,000 census takers were tasked to gather census information in 48 different states and various territories. The cost to perform the 1940 census was more than $67 million.

All this effort put into creating 1940 census records can pay off as you learn about your family history. Because the Census Bureau reexamines the questions asked in each census, 1940 census records will tell you more than just where your ancestors lived and who lived in their household. In the case of the 1940 census, your ancestors may have answered up to 50 questions, and their answers can illuminate their personal struggles during the time of the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, and the start of World War II.

In the 1940 census, you can also find famous people such as Albert Einstein, Louis Armstrong, Marilyn Monroe, Neil Armstrong, Babe Ruth, and Rosa Parks and see how they or their households answered the census questions. Each of these individuals had a different impact on the eras before and after 1940 and were listed in the census.

From the theory of relativity, to the first man in space, to forwarding the Civil Rights movement, a lot was going on in during this time period. How many of these famous people can you find in the 1940 census? Can you find your own family members?

Famous people on the 1940 US census: Albert Einstein, Louis Armstrong, Marilyn Monroe, Neil Armstrong, Babe Ruth, and Rosa Parks

 

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Comments

  1. In the 1940 census, the whole block that my family lived in was skipped by the census takers. I was the indexer for that area. also the arbitrator. I found lots of my friends, playmates that were listed in surrounding block, but not on our block.
    Carrol Gunnell

  2. I find the 1940 census to be the least genealogically useful of all “recent” censuses — no questions about immigration/naturalization status, number of children, length of marriage, etc.

  3. With the advent of computer technology (and all the information gathering capability now at our fingertips), why is the 1950 census not being released until 2022? If extending privacy for the still living is the reason, it is no longer a valid reason. There is little that can be hidden anymore … at least the kind that a genealogist is looking for.

    Also, if there is not a death certificate on-line via Ancestry or other genealogy sites, and I then go to the county courthouse to get a copy and am told only immediate family can do this AFTER they have made a sworn statement about being close kin, what other options are there? Since there are so many sources for info now, why not release the strangle-hold at the courthouse?

  4. I was disappointed in that the 1940 census taker for our area was so lazy that he not only omitted my own family but he also omitted many of my nearby friends and relatives. He not only misspelled names but occasionally recorded the wrong sex for children. I suppose his was a political appointment and doubt that he actually visited many of the homes in his enumeration district of Baltimore County Maryland. Now we must wait for the 1950 census release to see if we are included. I hope that this is a lesson for authorities to recruit only competent reliable takers in the future.
    Carleton L Weidemeyer

    1. There is a lot of inattention to detail on all sides. I just looked at a marriage license that was recorded, and the priest who completed the paper had beautiful handwriting, the spelling of the names clearly legible. The recording clerk who rewrote the names clearly misspelled them from the original. FamilySearch does show both spellings. I have also looked at a lot of census data in the last couple days from 1880 to 1940, state and US. Misspellings are rampant. I doubt the census taker was even asking for spellings, especially of first names. Then sometimes there is a problem with the indexer who is not familiar with the name and one can see it in in the writing if one knows what they are looking for. Sometimes I know what I am looking for and it’s a wonder anyone else could tell what it was. Either way, it is much easier now than when my parents and aunt were working on the tree 40 years ago and trips to the courthouse and cemetery were required for what is now at my fingertips.

  5. It’s like census takers wrote what they wanted and did not care about details. I wonder how many of them could actually read/write. I have a great aunt who was recorded to be a male child in the 1930 census. Come on now that is crazy. Even birth dates/years for relatives are off. Im so sure ppl knew how old they were. I can see the census taker saying well you look a lot older so I will fill in my own date. My great-grandmother is recorded on the 1940 census as being 32 years old with a 25 year old son. But in the 1930 census her dob was correct and the dob for her son was also correct. She was 23 when she had her first child. The 1940 census is useless. The only valuable info I got is that she moved to another area and that my great-grand father passed away sometime between 1930 and 1940 census as it was indicated she was a widow. Too bad many family records were destroyed by one of her daughter’s evil husbands.