On April 2, 2012, at 9:00 EDT, the manuscript returns for the 1940 US Census will be released to the public—a banner day for genealogists! Thanks to changes in technology, this release will be entirely digital—no more trekking to the library to use the pesky microfilm. Instead, for the first time, every census record for the entire nation will be available to anyone with access to the Internet free of charge. What an advance! Yes, you can sit at home in your most comfortable clothing, with your favorite snack and your pet at your side as you do your research. The census itself will be available at http://1940census.archives.gov/. For information about the census and how to use it, visit www.archives.gov/research/census/1940/.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that the census will not be indexed when it is first released. How do you find anyone? You will have to know their address, or something close to it. Look through your family materials to see what you can find there. If the person you’re looking for lived in a small town or rural area, you can get to a manageable number of enumeration districts simply by entering the location name. If the person lived in a large city, you will need a street address, which you can find in city directories or telephone books. In Delaware, the only place that had a city directory in 1940 was Wilmington. The directory covers the city and nearby suburbs. So even if you don’t have to visit the Delaware Historical Society to use the census, you might have to come in to use the directory. Once you have an address or location, there is a great source that helps with finding enumeration districts: http://stevemorse.org. It has a great deal of information and links on many different genealogical topics—it’s well worth a visit.
The 1940 U.S. Census Community Project is a volunteer crowd-sourcing effort to create an index for the census. If you would like to help create an index that will help researchers find their way more easily, visit www.the1940census.com for more information. The more people who participate, the sooner the index will be done.