1940 Census Records

1940 Iowa Couple

Genealogists are eagerly anticipating the release of the 1940 census records. These records will add another resource for researching your family tree.

Release Date

Congress passed privacy statutes regarding the censuses that restrict any identifying information from being release to the public for 72 years. The 1940 enumeration date was April 1, 1940 and the records will be released April 2, 2012. The National Archives and Records Administration, (NARA) which is the custodian of the census information, will release the information on that date in digital form.

About the Census

This was the sixteenth enumeration of the residents of the United States. Congress enacted the first census in 1790 to determine the population apportionment of seats for the U.S. House of Representatives. The purpose of the census expanded over the decades. It is now also a prime statistical tool, as well as a primary source for genealogists.

In 1940, over 132 million residents were counted in the enumeration. This was a critical time in U.S. history. The country was still recovering from the Great Depression. It was also the eve of U.S. involvement in World War II, which began with the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941.

Questions in the 1940 Census Records

One reason this census has been so eagerly anticipated is the added number of questions in the polling of individuals. As in past enumerations, each individual was asked basic personal information:

  • Name
  • Age at last birthday
  • Sex
  • Race
  • Marital Status
  • Relation to head of household
  • Place of birth
  • Citizenship of those of foreign birth
  • Occupation

The new supplemental questions are:

  • Place of residence on April 1, 1935
  • Income in 1939
  • Duration of employment
  • Level of education

This census also marks the first time that supplemental questions were included. These questions were only asked to about one in 20 respondents, mostly those who appear on line 14 and line 29 of the enumerator's form. This was the beginning of the "long" and "short" census forms that we know today. The supplemental questions were:

  • Parents' birthplace
  • Native language
  • Veteran service
  • Social Security enrollment
  • For women, the number of times married, age at first marriage and the number of births

How to Find Clues

The 1940 enumeration will give valuable clues to genealogists. The 1935 residency question will be a certain boon for those who have ancestors that moved often. For example, you find James Kaufman in the 1940 census in Little Rock, Arkansas. His information says that in 1935 he was in Biloxi, Mississippi. This information tells you that a good place to look for him in the 1930 census is in Mississippi. The supplemental questions may also help your research. For example, you have Clara Brown listed as 50 years old in 1940, married three times, the first time at 18. You will know that she was probably listed under a different married name in the 1920 census.

After the Release

Once released, the census will be immediately available at NARA facilities across the country. Subscription services, such as Ancestry.com, and genealogy websites, such as Family Search, will probably quickly include the information in their databases. It shouldn't be long before you have easy access to the 1940 census records.

1940 Census Records