Quick Reference: How to Read the 1940 U.S. Census

November 4, 2018  - by 

Records from the 1940 census can give you a lot of information about your family. Because so many questions were asked in the 1940 census, the records might seem overwhelming at first. Learn how to read a 1940 census record with just a few colorful visuals!

A 1940 Census Record Has Five Sections

A 1940 census record can be split into 5 sections to make it easier to digest: location and household, personal information, 1935 residence, employment, and supplemental information.

How to read a 1940 U.S. Census Record

Location and Household Information: Columns 1–6

If you want to know the street address of your ancestor in the 1940 census, this is the place to look.

How to read a 1940 U.S. Census Record: location and household questions

Name and Personal Information: Columns 7–16

Column 7 is where you look for your ancestor’s name. Names in the census record were generally grouped by last name, with the head of a household listed first.

You may also learn about your family member’s birthplace, family relationships, marital status, and even citizenship by looking at this section.

How to read a 1940 U.S. Census Record: personal information questions

1935 Residence Information: Columns 17–20

This section of the 1940 census record tells you where your ancestor lived 5 years before the census was taken.

How to read a 1940 U.S. Census Record: 1935 residence questions

Employment Information: Columns 21–34

Look at this section to find out about your ancestor’s occupation and other work information. Here you might learn where they worked (or if they went to school), how many hours they worked, and even their salary.

How to read a 1940 U.S. Census Record: employment information questions

Supplemental Information: Columns 35–50

Always check the bottom section of a 1940 census record to see if your ancestor was chosen to answer some extra questions. You might learn about your ancestor’s veteran status, Social Security number, usual occupation, and more.

How to read a 1940 U.S. Census Record: supplemental questions


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  1. This looked like a great article, but the “how-to” at the bottom of each category that I assume was to take me to an example didn’t work. Could that be fixed so we could get the full benefit of the article, please?

  2. While valuable I don’t see the point to providing this information six years after the 1940 census became available. Here’s a suggestion – when something is added to Family Search why not devote a few lines to explaining what these new records contain and how they might be used.

  3. I have been trying to find out how my stepfather’s half brother is truly related to him can you help