Select Page

Closing in on 1940

One week from today, we’ll all be sitting at our breakfast tables, bleary eyed from lack of sleep and from staring at line after line of census data from 1940. Countdown time!

IPUMS census website

So how are we to occupy our time from now until next Monday (and, for those of us poor souls who still work for a living, until next Monday night…)? How ’bout with a census site I hadn’t heard about until this past weekend when the New York Public Library sponsored a fabulous program, called The Road to the 1940 Census: In Search of Your Family History?

First, let me tell you a little bit about the program, co-sponsored by the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration – New York, and the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society. It was an all-day affair, with a number of speakers each of whom offered insights into some part of the road to the 1940 census that I for one sure hadn’t known about before.

Arnold Jackson, Associate Director for Decennial Census at the U.S. Census Bureau, kicked off the program by contrasting the America of 1940 and the America of 2010. He noted, for example, that America in 1940 had only about 130 million residents; in 2010, 308 million were recorded. In 1940, there were about 30 million housing units; in 2010, 131 million. In 1940, five percent of Americans had bachelor’s degrees; in 2010, it was 28%. In 1940, 9.8% of Americans were African American; in 2010, 12.6%.

Constance Potter of NARA, who offered “Tips for Getting the Most from the 1940 Census,” gave so many tips that I’m going to write separately about her presentation later this week. But one thing she pointed out that I hadn’t known was that enumeration districts in 1940 can have an A or B after the number. So, she said, if you’re looking for a particular enumeration district and it doesn’t come up, try adding an A or B after it.

Ben Vershbow, manager of the New York Public Libray Labs, spoke about an amazing census tool the NYPL will launch next Monday. It will link the 1940 New York City phone books directly to Steve Morse’s One-Step Pages for 1940 enumeration districts. Eventually, the Library hopes to link it all the way to the census images themselves. Very cool for those (alas, unlike me) who have New York City relatives. It’ll be available to begin with at the NYPL website here.

And because the program was not just the 1940 census, but was called The Road to the 1940 Census, Meldon J. Wolfgang III spoke about “Hidden Clues, Overlooked Connections: Revisiting Those Pre-1940 Censuses.” And it was Wolfgang who provided this gem of a census website: the University of Minnesota’s Minnesota Population Center program called IPUMS-USA.

IPUMS is an acronym; it stands for Integrated Public Use Microdata Series. The subtitle on the site is “census microdata for social and economic research.” But don’t be fooled into thinking this is exclusively hypertechnical geeky stuff. Some of it is, sure. But not all. And don’t let the fact that this is run by the Minnesota Population Center fool you, either. The MPC has national — even international — databases. The United States census stuff is terrific.

It has links to all of the enumeration forms and enumerator instructions from 1850 all the way through the 2010 American Community Survey enumeration. It has histories of enumeration procedures for each census from 1790 through 2000. It’s got details of the sampling procedures for the censuses including the 1940 sampling procedures.

And it’s got PDF files of all of the published census volumes — tables of data tabulated for the country, individual states, counties and cities — available for download.

You may never end up in the data section of the website unless you’re a data geek (and aren’t most of us genealogists, in one way or another?). But if you start with the User’s Guide in the Documentation section, and poke around in the links under Volume III: Creating censuses and samples, I guarantee you you’ll have enough to fill those empty moments between now and Monday April 2nd.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email