Monday, December 26, 2011

Q&A with Julie Hill of about the 1940 U.S. Census

After was announced as the National Archives partner to host the 1940 U.S. Census images back in mid-November, I asked Julie Hill of if she could answer the questions that I had about the announcement, the 1940 U.S. Census, and the effort.  Here are my questions and Julie's  answers (all via email):

Randy Seaver (RS):  Was this announcement about the 1940 U.S. Census image hosting a result of being awarded the NARA Contract for no-cost hosting of the images?

Julie Hill (JH) Yes. Our recent press release about the 1940 Census was to publicize our award of the NARA contract. Our press release and NARA’s press release were published the same day. We’re thrilled to have the opportunity to work with NARA on this important project. As part of the project, we will build a website for NARA where the 1940 Census images will be available electronically April 2, 2012. More info at

RS:  Will have to increase their hardware investment (e.g., servers, drives) to provide the requested service times and volume specified in the NARA contract? 

JH:  We are prepared for a large traffic spike April 2, 2012 and plan to scale appropriately to handle user demand. We are factoring in the large interest for the 1940 Census into our plans.

RS:  What is the expected size of the individual images of the 1940 U.S. census pages, and the total size of the collection?

JH:  The 1940 Census image collection consists of 3.8 million images, from 4,745 rolls of microfilm.

RS:  Will create an every name index for the 1940 U.S. census?  If so, when will that work begin?

JH:  Archives will make a 1940 Census name index available on its website – accessible for free. This is a separate effort from the NARA project. The announcement was made last week that will be a partner in the 1940 US Census Community Project along with FamilySearch and brightsolid. The project will rely on volunteers to index the 1940 Census by name, and work will begin after the 1940 Census is made public April 2, 2012.

RS: If does not create an index, will you partner with another company that is creating an index?

JH:  Joint project mentioned above.

RS: When do you expect a complete every name index of the 1940 U.S. census to be available?

JH:  Indexing work will begin immediately following April 2, 2012. No exact completion date has been announced – but the name index will be made available as soon as possible. More information about timing will be published next year.

RS:  How extensive will the every name index be - will researchers be able to search on names, dates, locations, relationships, etc.?   Will they be able to use wild card searches, exact searches, Soundex and other searches?

JH:  The 1940 Census will be indexed by volunteers using the FamilySearch indexing tools. Information regarding the exact fields to be indexed is best provided by the FamilySearch staff. Functionality provided to search the 1940 Census (like wild card searches, etc) will depend on the website – our goal at will be to make the records as easy to search as possible. Exact searches are possible on today, and we expect to make future enhancements to increase functionality further.

RS: NARA has said that the images will be freely available on the host site.  Will that ever change on 

JH:  Like other members of the consortium, our intention is to make the 1940 Census free on and we don’t have any plans or timeline for changing that.

RS: Will the index on be free also, or will it behind the subscription wall?

JH:  You will not need to enter credit card information on to access the 1940 Census images or name index.

RS:  In the time between when the images are available (2 April 2012) and when the complete index is available, how will guide researchers to find their research targets?

JH:  This is a great question. Until the name index is available, our goal will be to make the 1940 Census as accessible and easy-to-browse as possible. This will in part be done by the way that we design the NARA website, with the aim to make searching and viewing images as intuitive as possible. Another aspect will be providing adequate help resources that will assist people in finding the location of their ancestor in 1940 (since “location” is required for browsing). These same ideas will be present both on and the NARA website.

RS:  Have you been consulting with Steve Morse and Joel Weintraub on this?  I'm sure you know that they have put an ED Finding Aid on the web site. 

JH:  The one-step tools are a great resource for helping users find the correct ED. We have been in contact with Steve and Joel – and certainly appreciate their expertise!

My thanks to Julie and the team for their responses.  I asked these questions before the announcement of the 1940 US Census Community Project, and Julie asked me to be patient until they could provide firm answers to my questions.


Dr. Bill (William L.) Smith said...

Great information, Randy. Thank you for making this available. The excitement builds.... ;-)

Debbie Blanton McCoy said...

Thanks, Randy, that was interesting. I hope we don't crash the site when we all try to access the census at 9:00 a.m. on April 2!

Anonymous said...

Thank you Randy for trying to get a committed answer about "cost free" browsing and dates for indexing. I did not get the impression that specific 1940's census information will be easily available very soon after April 2.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the previous Anonymous... himmed and hawwed on just about every answer.
My hopes are not very high. Sounds to me like they promised the world just to get the contract.