1940 Census Action Plan

Census records are the starting point for nearly all genealogical research projects.  Privacy restrictions limit public access of census records for 72 years, so on April 2, 2012 the 1940 census will become available.   Thanks to Archives.com, the records will be available immediately online for free.

For those of you who often refer to the 1850-1930 census, you’ll be very pleased with the 1940 census and it’s 50 questions. For a list of the questions, go here.  The number of hours worked and the 1935 residence questions will be especially interesting.

Because the records will not be indexed by name, you will have to search by address, enumeration district, or geographic location.  Enumeration districts (ED) are geographical subdivisions that are defined strictly for the purpose of census taking.  EDs include two numbers, the first identifies the county and the second number designates the district.   If you don’t have the exact address of your relatives, it may be tricky to find them in the 1940 census.

It’s a good idea to begin planning now and create an action plan so that no time is wasted on April 2nd.  I recommend starting at the “How to Access the 1940 Census in One Step” quiz.  Here are some examples from my action plan:

  • Loretta Hutchinson.  Loretta is my 2nd great grandmother  and I can’t wait to see what info was given on her census record, especially who was living in the same household.  Loretta can be found in the 1930 census living at 604 Lawrence Avenue, Ellwood City, Lawrence County, Pennsylvania – ED 37-5.  I’m assuming she stayed put for 10 years and was living in the same location in 1940.
    1. Used the 1930 to 1940 Census ED Conversion Tool which resulted in EDs 37-4 and 37-5.
    2. Just to double check, I searched the specific Enumeration District Map via the National Archives’ Archival Research Catalog (ARC) by entering “1940 Census Maps Lawrence Pennsylvania” into the search field.  The search resulted in 24 maps of different cities in Lawrence County.  I clicked on “Ellwood City” and then the tab “Digital Copies.” By pulling up the address in Google Maps and referencing nearby streets with the Enumeration District Map, I found Loretta’s address to be on the border of ED 37-4 and 37-5.  You may also get to the ED maps by going 1940 Enumeration District Maps in One Step page.
  • Elizabeth and Katherine Murphy.  This is my great grandmother and grandmother.  I’m nearly 100% certain that they were not living at the 1930 address.  But I do know that they were living in Youngstown, Ohio.  There are way too many districts in Youngstown (145 to be exact) so just browsing is not very feasible.  Here are two options that should lead me to a specific street or neighborhood:
    1. Call the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County (most local libraries have archives of city directories) and check if they have a city directory around the time of 1940.  I may be visiting Youngstown this winter, so I’ll definitely take advantage of the resources at the library.
    2. If I’m unable to visit the Youngstown Library, the Library of Congress in Washington, DC has a LARGE collection of city directories and phone books. After a quick search in the Table of Contents, I see that  the Library of Congress holds the city directories for Youngstown, Ohio of the years 1880-1944.
  • Alexander Campbell Hutchinson.  “Cam” is mostly a mystery to me.  He was divorced to my 2nd great grandmother, but his obituary says he left a wife at “home on Center Avenue” and I know he resided in Butler County, Pennsylvania his entire life.  I’m really curious to see if he was in fact remarried in the 1940 census.
    1. I used the Finding ED Definitions for 1940 in One Step by selecting “Pennsylvania”, “Butler County” and the keyword “Center” results in EDs 10-6, 10-7, 10-8, 10-9, and 10-10.
    2. For me, five EDs are too many to browse through, so I will probably call the Butler County Library and inquire about their city directories.  This particular library has a ton of genealogical resources so I feel pretty positive about finding a more specific address.
  • John William Updegraff.  “Jay” is my great grandfather and another family member that I can’t wait to learn more about.  Thanks to the FamilySearch WW2 Draft Records, I was able to find his 1942 address as 1220 Oak Hill Avenue, Youngstown, Mahoning County, Ohio.
    1. Entered the street into the Large Cities tool, added a cross street (Garfield) and got EDs 96-107 and 96-108.
    2. To double check, I used the National Archives’ Archival Research Catalog (ARC) by entering “1940 Census Maps Mahoning Ohio”, clicking on “Youngstown”, then the tab “Digital Copies” to get a map of the Youngstown Enumeration Districts. A  Google Map of 1220 Oak Hill Avenue was very helpful in finding a reference location, as the Youngstown map is quite large.  Jay’s address was located near the border of 96-107 and 96-108.  Again, you may use the 1940 Enumeration District Maps in One Step page (it’s actually easier to use than the NARA site, but was discovered afterwards).

What are your strategies for the 1940 Census?

Special thank you to Joel Weintraub, PhD for all the guidance! 

3 Responses

    1. Pat Gallaugher McMurray

      Danny, this is your cousin Patty Gallaugher McMurray. I need your email address. We’re thinking of going to Ireland and need more info regarding where you live and when is the best time to visit.

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