Finding Ancestors in the 1940 Census Using the E.D. Number

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An Enumeration District (E.D.) was a geographical area that an enumerator, or census taker collected information about everyone living in that area. Without an name index, it is necessary to know the E.D. of where your ancestor lived to locate them in the 1940 Census.  More details about Enumeration Districts.

Once you have the E.D. number for an ancestor, starting 2 April 2012, you can use that number to find her or him in online census images at sites like:

The census population schedule images will be arranged in order by—

  • census year - for example, 1920, 1930, 1940
  • state - for example, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware
  • county - for example, Kent County, New Castle County, Sussex County
  • enumeration district number - for example, ED 3-23, ED 3-24, ED 3-25
  • order of household visitation by the census taker.

All of the above items are found on every page of the census. However, the Internet sites that make the 1940 census images available may not necessarily choose to list the E.D. numbers in their browsing structure. As a substitute for the E.D. number, some sites may choose to display some other non-useful number.

Internet Sites that Show E.D. Numbers

If the Internet site you use shows the E.D. number when you browse, it should be fairly easy to open the pages for that E.D. Then move page-by-page through the E.D. looking for the ancestor's family living there in 1940.

Note that the street name will be listed on the left side of each census page. You can also use the street name to help locate an ancestor's family if you also know their address.

Usually, even without an address you will be able to browse through all the pages of the E.D. looking for an ancestor in less than an hour.

Internet Sites without E.D. Numbers Showing

If the census site you use does not display the E.D. numbers in their browse structure, you should still be able to narrow the search to the correct E.D. within a few minutes. Open a census page about half way through the the browse and read the top of the page to determine if it is before or after the E.D. number you seek. Then open another page about half way through the remaining part of the browse, read the page top, and determine if it is before or after the right E.D. Continue on repeatedly dividing the remaining browse in half and opening pages until you narrow the pages you open to the correct E.D.

Once you find the correct pages for the E.D., begin browsing page-by-page through that E.D. looking for the ancestor's family.

Census E.D. Numbers on Microfilms

The 1940 census pages will also be available on about 4,650 microfilm rolls at the National Archives (NARA), and other repositories that purchase film copies. You will need to know the number of the microfilm roll that contains the desired E.D. to find it quickly.

Use the Viewing Census Images for the 1940 Census in One Step Internet site to find the microfilm roll number for any given corresponding E.D. number. In the 1a. Select State and ED field use the pull-down windows to select the State, select the County, and select the E.D. number. After making these selections the film series NARA roll T627  and roll number will appear to the right, for example, NARA roll T627_ 548.

Get access to the appropriate microfilm roll number at the National Archives, or at another repository. A microfilm roll may include many more than one E.D. number on it. So next, find on the film the pages for the correct E.D. number. Then begin browsing page-by-page through that E.D. looking for the ancestor's family.

When You Find an Ancestor

Capture an image of each ancestor's family listing on the census. Also, on the same census look a few pages before and after each ancestor for potential neighbor/relatives living nearby. Transfer the genealogical information to the ancestors' family group records. Cite your census source with footnotes each place you add information to the family group records.

Analyze the information you find and compare it to other sources to evaluate its accuracy. Ponder the information thinking about implications and possible clues it may provide for finding further sources about the ancestor's family. For example, if you find a family in the 1940 census, would they also be found in the 1930 or earlier census years?

Finding Ancestors in the 1940 Census Starting with a City Directory

Background on City Directories

City directories are basically an alphabetical listing of the residents of a town or city and were designed to help businesses in working with their customer base. The geographic area covered by the publisher may be just those residents living within the boundaries of the city or it may also include a set suburban area. Residences outside the geographic boundaries would not be included. Directories before 1900 may not include the name of the wife, but would list a single adult woman if she was employed. After 1900, most directories would include the name of the wife. They also began to enter the names of adult children, if they were students in a post secondary education facility or working on their own. For further information, see: United States Directories.

Locating City Directories

City directories can usually be found in the local public library or historical society of the city of interest. They may also be found at a state university library or the state library or historical society. The Library of Congress has a large collection of city directories on microfilm in their Microform Reading Room. See their website at:

These directories are not available via interlibrary loan. They do provide a list of free-lance researchers in the greater Washington D.C. area who perform research for a fee., a subscription website, has several 1940 era directories for cities in California, Connecticut, Illinois, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas.

City Directories of the United States of America has a clickable map of the United States showing where all known city directories are throughout the country. This is an ongoing project. Their website is:

Using the City Directory

City directories are alphabetical. After locating your ancestors address you will need to determine the Enumeration District that the residence was located in.