Sunday, February 15, 2009

Joel Weintraub at SDGS on "Preparing for the 1940 Census"

I said it before, and I'll say it again - if Dr. Joel Weintraub is speaking at a genealogy society near you - go see him! He is knowledgeable, informative, entertaining, and the presentations are the "best ever" in my book!

Joel presented "Preparing for the 1940 Census" today at the San Diego Genealogical Society meeting today. The talk description and Joel's curriculum vitae are here. The professor and the genealogist in Joel really shone through today - the PowerPoint presentation had static slides, many funny graphics, short video segments, short audio segments that went with the graphics, and many great suggestions for dealing with the 1940 census when it comes out on 2 April 2012. In addition, he filled three tables with ephemera that he has collected specifically about the census, including many from the 1940 time period.

Joel has some of the information he presented on his website at

The major point that Joel made in his talk today was that genealogy researchers will have to learn to search the 1940 US census using Enumeration Districts, at least from "Opening Day," until name indexes are available. That is why there is such an emphasis on his web site to providing aids to determine the Enumeration District of a place based on the address found in some other resource (e.g., city directories) and the 1930 Enumeration District numbers for that address. He and his team of volunteers are working through the NARA A3378 Series of ED Maps for 1940 and the NARA T1224 Series that defines 1940 ED boundaries. A web site that describes the probable process is here. The process will be different for large cities (over 50,000 population), small cities (25,000 to 50,000 population) and rural areas.

It sounds complicated, and it is, but we'll get used to it right about the time that the every name searches created by volunteers become available!

I won't summarize Joel's two hours of presentation (he set a countdown clock for the break time of 15:00:00 minutes, and almost everybody was back in their seats when it struck 00:00:00) in this post, but I will provide some of the things I took away from his talk:

* The directions for 1940 census enumerators are at

* The 72-year rule was originally defined by transfer of the 1870 census from the Census Bureau to the National Archives in 1942, but it wasn't codified until 1978. It was not based on life expectancy.

* The 1940 census form has 40 lines - and two people on each page were asked additional questions about parents birthplaces, veterans information, Social Security information, number of children and marriage status (women only). This was the first census to use sampling techniques.

* The Census Bureau conducted a trial in two Indiana counties in 1939.

* There was a tremendous uproar in the U.S. Senate about the question asking about wages and money earned, led by Senator Tobey. Many people balked at answering the question despite a mail-in "anonymous" form.

* will put many 1940 city and county directories online before the release of the 1940 census so people can find the addresses of their family members (and then can use the address to find the ED).

* NARA will probably not hire a third-party to index the census records. They will release the images without indexes. The thought is that a volunteer indexing activity will arise - like FamilySearch Indexing - to provide an every-name index.

* 1940 US Census Enumerators were paid 4 cents per name.

This presentation was extremely well attended - there were over 135 people in attendance, and they were all informed and entertained by a very knowledgeable Joel Weintraub over more than two hours!

If your local genealogy society needs a speaker, you should recommend Joel to your program chairperson. You, and your members, won't be disappointed!

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