Thursday, March 29, 2012

My 1940 U.S. Census Expectations

I have many expectations about the 1940 United States Census which will be released on Monday, 2 April 2012 at 9 a.m. EDT (6 a.m. PDT).  They include:

1)  The release of the digital images on the NARA website will occur on time.  That's the easy part!

2)  Thousands of potential users will ask "Why didn't someone tell me I had to know the Enumeration District number?" Yes, you have to KNOW the ED before you try to see the census images, otherwise your effort will be in vain.

3)  Thousands of potential users will wonder what an Enumeration District is, and finally figure out that to know the ED, they have to know an address of each family.  They will wonder where to find the address.  I posted How Can I Find Out Where My Folks Lived in 1940? and Finding Addresses of People in the 1940 U.S. Census Using City Directories to help out.

4)  Thousands of users will wonder where to go to find the Enumeration District number when they have an address, and will eventually find the NARA Online Public Access (OPA) website at  They will try to find the maps that may tell them an ED number.  Or not.  It is pretty hard to find the right map for large cities, and to find the right ED number for large cities.

5)  Astute genealogists, who have read the publicity put out by genealogy bloggers, magazines, society newsletters, or watched the available webinars, will know that they should use the Steve Morse 1940 Census ED Finder at in conjunction with a site like Google Maps or the NARA OPA site to find the streets that define the residence block.

6)  The NARA 1940 Census website will be overloaded and will not return results for anybody for several hours, perhaps even until late evening on 2 April.  The contract to host the images required 25,000 concurrent users.  I hope that  the host will add additional server capability.

7)  If a user manages to get to the site to enter their state and Enumeration District number, they may not know that the first image they see will be the first page for the Enumeration District.  There is a really good chance that their family is NOT on the page image that comes up.  Many users will give up at this point.

8)  The user may try to browse the online images for the Enumeration District on the NARA site page by page.  This may become quite frustrating if the wait times for each image to load is long.

9)  There will be a learning curve to use the NARA website to navigate page to page, to manipulate the images (zoom in/out, rotate, etc.).  Nobody in the genealogical community has seen this site yet...

10)  The user may not know that the best way to see and read the images is to download the entire Enumeration District file (it may be over 100 megabytes) to their computer hard drive and then browse the images offline using their photo or graphics software program.  This, of course, will be a problem for users without a fast Internet connection.

11)  There will be errors in the linking of the ED numbers to the ED images.  With 147,000 enumeration districts, there are bound to be errors.  Will there be an email address to notify of the errors?

12)  Thousands of users will wonder where the name indexes are and deluge social media websites and genealogy society email addresses with questions about the lack of a name index.

13)  They will complain when their state is one of the last ones to appear with a name index (hint - large states will probably be last!).  They will continue to complain until late in 2012 about the lack of name indexes.  Then they will complain that they can't find their families using the name indexes because the indexers screwed up.

14)  I expect to be able to find at least five families on 2 April 2012 in the 1940 US Census.  I expect to blog about the experience and the results.

15)  I expect to wait until the every-name index is available to find all of the persons that I want to find in the 1940 U.S. Census (Seaver, Carringer, Auble, Vaux, Richmond, Dill, Buck, Leland, Schaffner, McKnew, Grieser, and other families, plus collaterals).

There are sets of Frequently Asked Questions about the 1940 Census at:

1)  Steve Morse One-Step website - see

2)  National Archives 1940 Census Records page - see

3)  National Archives 1940 Census FAQ page - see

What expectations do you have?  Do you agree or disagree with mine?  What would you add to my list?

The URL for this post is:

copyright (c) 2012, Randall J. Seaver


. said...

I seriously would not want to work at NARA next week!

GGM Scott said...

I have MY list of ED numbers that I want to check first; do you have yours?
My guess is that the servers at Steve Morse's site will crash, maybe sooner than the actual census site. So I decided to have my list ahead of time.
I completely agree with your 'expectations' - the only addition I would make is to set a time-table for how long it will take me to get ticked-off at those who haven't paid attention to all the helpful information that has been available for the longest kind of time! And, following that, how long it will take me to get over being ticked-off, and get on with it. I'm getting pretty good at getting past that less-than-charming-quality in my own personality, so will be willing to help others before too much time has passed.
I believe one of the things that will happen is the those who have only begun to research their families recently, and have been able to utilize the internet for nearly all of their findings, including 'primary sources' in many instances, are going to get a taste of what research was like prior to the internet. Are they ready for a line-by-line study of an entire County, for the misspelled name of their gr-grandmother on their dad's side, or the alternate name or nickname of the second-cousin of their mother?

I am SO anxious to get started. I'm IN the 1940 census - or should be. Oh, my!

Anonymous said...

Your #6 is certainly proving to be a correct prediction, as I've just blogged on, updating a 1940 census piece in the April issue, which is also on the magazine's Capital Comments blog.

NARA is being pretty honest about the site being slammed at its #1940census Twitter site.