On April 24, 2012, the 1940 census records were released online—the National Archives’ first-ever online U.S. census release. The National Archive website had approximately 22 million hits in four hours, and additional servers had to be added to meet the demand. Did we mention it was a long awaited event? After 72 years, any person interested in accessing these records can do so online for free.
This census took place at a pivotal time in America’s history—the country was pulling its way out of the Great Depression and striving to regain economic stability through Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal. The 1940 census contains more in-depth information than previous census records about wages, occupation, previous residences, and grade levels achieved—all helpful when working on a family history.
Finding people will take time and effort, because there is not a name index—yet. The National Archives is crowdsourcing that process, meaning they’ve invited anyone who is interested to help with identifying and indexing names. You can learn more about volunteering at https://the1940census.com/.
In the meantime, we wanted to walk you through the process of finding someone in the census using the current search tools. As an example, we chose former Texas governor and past president of Baylor, Pat M. Neff. First, navigate to www.1940census.archives.gov. Start your search by entering as much information as you know: state, county, city and physical address for the individual, or the enumeration district for the person you seek.
For Pat Neff, we knew the state, county, and city. Searching these options gave us 47 enumeration district reports, which are anywhere from one to 60 pages. You would have to search each page for the name.
Luckily, the Waco city directories we have at The Texas Collection contained the address for Neff in 1940. By entering the street name in the last search field, we cut the results down to 8 districts. We further limited our search by choosing the Maps tab. This option brought up a map of Waco from 1940 which listed street names and enumeration districts. When you find the street you need, the enumeration district will be marked close to that section of the map in the form of a three number set followed by a two number set. Neff’s district was 155-20.
Returning to “Start Your Search” where you entered state, county, city and street information, you also have the option to search by enumeration district. We entered the number 155-20 for Pat Neff, and it returned one file.
Clicking on the ED 155-20 file, we saw that it contains 40 pages—sounds like a lot, but it’s not too bad to skim through. On the last page of the file, we found Pat Neff and learned, among other things, that he made $8,400 that year and is listed as being 67 years old.
Again, this takes time, and the more information you know, the quicker a successful search. Consult city directories and phonebooks. If unavailable, try courthouse records or church records for help. Your local library may have these helpful genealogical resources and advice. The Texas Collection has city directories and many other sources to help you search for individuals—we’d love to see you! And we’d like to hear from you—please let us know in the comment section below how your searches went and what you found. Happy hunting!
By Benna Vaughan, Manuscripts Archivist