CEO Corner: Farewell to the 1940 US Census Indexing Project. What’s Next?

September 28, 2012  - by 

The 1940 U. S. Census Community Project has given us all an opportunity to link arms with thousands of other family history buffs, as well as civic and social organizations (more than 150,000 volunteers in all), to make this valuable record collection freely available to everyone.

The recent success of the “Five Million Record Challenge,” held this past July 1, demonstrated just how popular and engaging indexing is becoming. On that single day, over 46,000 volunteers took part in indexing more than double the original goal for a total of more than 10.3 million records in 24-hours.

“Apparently we set the goal too low,” said Mike Judson, FamilySearch manager for indexing volunteer development. “We continue to be amazed by the number of compassionate volunteers donating their time so others can trace their family history. Their enthusiasm for indexing historic genealogical records to make them searchable online is astounding and incredibly gratifying.”

In a recent speech given by David Ferriero, archivist for the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), Ferriero recently said, “…A name index did not exist for the 1940 census, so NARA joined the 1940 Census Community Project. The project is led by FamilySearch and sponsored by major genealogy organizations. Over 200,000 volunteers are creating a name index for the 1940 census using indexing software provided by FamilySearch. It was anticipated that volunteers would take almost seven months to index the census, but the project is now expected to be completed two to three months ahead of schedule at the end of the summer. This is a perfect example of the power of crowdsourcing – a resource that NARA plans to leverage through our Citizen Archivist community with future projects…”

From start to end, indexing the entire 1940 US Census collection was completed in an amazing 4 months. More than 132 million names make up this valuable census index. No one in their wildest dreams thought it could be done in so short a time. This is indeed, a perfect example of the enormous power of crowdsourcing, as David Ferriero mentioned. A great feeling of gratitude goes out to all who took part in this remarkable effort.

Consultants, indexing directors, family history center directors, and local historical and genealogical society leaders are naturally interested in maintaining the enthusiasm of their indexing volunteers. In light of this desire, FamilySearch is pleased to announce that a new major record collection is now available for indexing. It is the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Community Project. This important record collection will surely further engage and invigorate indexers and arbitrators throughout North America.

Since the U.S. is largely a nation of immigrant families, the records in this collection of Immigration and Naturalization records are a foundational element of American research. Many millions of these records are currently available as images in FamilySearch, but they now must be indexed in order to make them easier to use. As with the 1940 U.S. Federal Census, FamilySearch will seek support from Church members as well as genealogical societies and the general public to accomplish this next goal. Six individual projects that make up part of this collection have already been posted online. Each is listed with the designation “U.S. (Community Project).”

FamilySearch is also launching large-scale national and regional projects from other parts of the world and in multiple languages. For example, the recent historic partnership with the National Archives of Italy allows FamilySearch to index millions of Italian civil registration (birth, marriage, and death) records. Thousands of volunteers (Italian speaking as well as others who can learn simple Italian phrases) are needed to meet this challenge. Similar plans are being developed for Latin America. In some cases, groups within the U. S. and Canada will be invited to assist with these large international projects.

We invite all to come join us and be a part of this remarkable effort to index historical records from around the world. They are a priceless resource for all who are interested in discovering their family’s history and heritage.

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  1. My birthplace is the wrong state on the 1940 Johnson County, Iowa Census, Jefferson Township. It lists Iowa instead of the correct state Illinois. How does one correct it?

    1. Simple. You go to – as mentioned before – and you find the record page in question. Then you use the option on the page to post a note to the page stating that your birth state should be Illinois. From then on, anyone researching you will see the note. Easy… 🙂

  2. A sincere thanks to all who were involved in making this important inforamiton source available so quickly!

  3. I have transcribed earlier census records for from the individual records the enumerator created. They were then entered into a ledger by the county clerk. Those ledgers are the images most researchers view as census pages. I assume this was a step most censuses followed.

    So before the information we view on census record images we see it was first transcribed by the county clerk from the enumerator’s records. The enumerator received the information from the head, family member, or in some cases a neighbor who may or may not have been able to read/write or spell.

    So now we come to the 1940 census where I assume the volunteer indexer of 2012 is working from the county clerks transcription of the enumerators records. If we researchers are very lucky both the enumerator and the county clerk transcriber has legible handwriting for the 2012 indexer to read and transcribe into an accurate index. If we are unlucky both or one of them and illegible handwriting leaving the 2012 indexer having to decipher almost if not completely illegible handwriting doing the best job they can do.

    I applauded all the volunteers who created the 1940 index for the rest of us.

    My hat (if I were wearing one) is off to you.

    Good Job!!! Well done!!!

  4. I don’t care about blame or causes. I do care about future generations being able to find their ancestors correctly.

    I have been working on family history in Municipio (similar to county) Tepexi de Rodriguez, Puebla, Mexico. 1930 Census workers took blank sheets and went forth to all ranches and villages. When they finished, all sheets were supposed to be assembled in order, then given a sheet number in logical order.

    Alas, the sheets for village Moralillo were assembled in wrong order. First person listed was Zenarina (sp?) Moctezuma, descendant of Emperor Moctezuma I, not Moctezuma II. (My wife’s family is known to be descended from that Emperor as well.) Zenarina was a small child, and no head of household listed.

    She is still alive 82 years later. So, a friend went and talked to her and asked her parents name. We now know her parents name, and name of an older sister, Alta Gracia. They were listed way back in the Moralillo packet, proving bad sorting of that packet of sheets.

    I am well aware we cannot change orginal data errors. But, this information needs to somehow be preserved for future generations after both Zenarina and I are deceased. And, not just for that family, but for all families in the Moralillo section.

    At this point i do not believe registering on a private, pay URL and inputting a note on Zenarina’s data is productive.

    I am thinking that going into the Family History Center in Tehuacan and asking their advice might be something to try. Otherwise, I guess it is possible the information may simply be lost to future generations.

    1. Bruce,
      I think that the 1940 Census is still Free to search on Please go there and add the correct information. And then, write the above story in your records. Then tell everyone in your family the correct information. Perhaps if you tell enough people the information won’t be lost.
      Keep up the good work!

  5. To Mr. Anderson,
    The entire 1940 Census is NOT finished. Many Indexers are still working on the 1940 Puerto Rico Census. When it is finished We will be very happy.

  6. I thoroughly enjoyed helping to index the 1940 census and other projects as well. I only happened upon indexing in Dec of 2011 and found a way to take up most of my spare time.

  7. US Virgin Islands-1920 census
    The census for 1920 was conducted in 1917.
    I have notice that year birth is not correct. More than likely the age of the individual has been left alone and the date of birth altered.
    Iolani M Miller

  8. While all of your efforts to index the 1940 Census for Puerto Rico is appreciated. Obviously someone didn’t do their homework. My family went from being white to black because of someone’s lack of knowledge. B on the form stand for Blanco which is white, not B for Black. They also affected records dating back to the 1910 Census with one flick of a key.