Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Tuesday's Tip: Use the 1940 United States Federal Census

The record collection for the 1940 United States Federal Census is one of my favorite record collections.  It is available online at:

*  Ancestry.com (free) - 134,176,298 entries

MyHeritage.com ($$) - 134,437,294 entries

Findmypast.com (Free) - 132,164,569 entries

FamilySearch.org (Free) - 134,827,283 entries

I have no idea why the number of entries are different at each provider.  Perhaps it is because some providers permit a user-provided index entry for enumerated persons.

The description of the 1940 United States Federal Census collection on Ancestry.com says (typical for a state collection):
An estimated 87 percent of Americans today can connect with at least one relative in the 1940 United States Federal Census—currently the largest census released to date and the most recent census available for public access.
Historical Background
Since 1790, the federal government has taken a census every 10 years to determine how members of the House of Representatives are apportioned. The U.S. census taken on 1 April 1940 was the 16th census of the United States. It tallied the population of the country at 131,669,275 for the continental U.S. This represented an increase of 7.2 percent for the continental U.S. since the 1930 census. Adding Hawaii, Alaska, Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and the Panama Canal Zone (all included in this database) brought the total to 134,176,298.
To facilitate the count, census planners divided the country into enumeration districts. These were geographic areas designed to allow a census taker (enumerator) to visit every house in the district within a two-week period (in rural areas, enumerators had a month). Enumerators were instructed to “visit every house, building, tent, cabin, hut, or other place in which any person might live or stay, to insure that no person is omitted from the enumeration” and to count “each person alive at the beginning of the census day, i.e., 12:01 A.M. on April 1, 1940.”
Census enumerators wrote "Ab" after names of people who belonged to the household but were absent on April 1. Visitors were to be counted as members of the household at their normal place of residence, as were students, patients at hospitals and sanitariums who had a permanent home, and servants and household employees who did not sleep on the premises.
Because the official cutoff for the census was 12:01 a.m. on April 1, babies born later that day should not have been included. Residents of “hotels, tourist or trailer camps, missions, and cheap one-night lodging houses (flophouses)” were enumerated based on where they spent the night on 8 April 1940. Enumerators worked throughout the month and into May finishing the count.
What You May Find in the Records
Enumerators recorded answers for the following questions on the 1940 census:
  • address
  • home value and whether owned or rented
  • name of each person whose usual place of residence on 1 April 1940 would be in the household
  • relationship to head of household
  • sex
  • color or race
  • age at last birthday
  • marital status
  • education
  • place of birth
  • citizenship
  • residence on 1 April 1935
  • employment status for those 14 and older (several questions)
  • occupation and number of weeks worked full-time in 1939
  • income in 1939
Enumerators also asked supplementary questions to provide a random sample of about 5 percent of the population. These questions included:
  • birthplace of mother and father,
  • native language,
  • veteran status (including widow or minor child of a veteran),
  • Social Security details,
  • occupation, industry, and class of worker,
  • marriage information for women (married more than once, age at first marriage, number of children).
Interesting Facts
The top five foreign countries listed as a birthplace were Italy, Germany, Russia, Poland, and England.
New York was the most commonly listed birth state.
The average household size enumerated in the 1940 census was 3.7 people.
Two women tied for the oldest person in the census: both Mary Dilworth of Oxford, Mississippi, and Cándido Vega Y Torres of Guayama, Puerto Rico, listed their ages as 119.
Mary and John were the most common given names appearing in the 1940 census.
The top five surnames in the 1940 census were Smith, Johnson, Brown, Williams, and Jones.
More than 850,000 people reported living in hotels or similar housing.
Here is an example from the FamilySearch census for one person:

I searched each record provider for some of my exact surnames of interest.  The results are:

*  Seaver               1781 (on Ancestry)

                              1761 (on MyHeritage)
                              2003 (on Findmypast)
                              2003 (on Family Search)

*  Carringer 
            336 (on Ancestry)
                                297 (on MyHeritage)
                                320 (on Findmypast)
                                320 (on Family Search)

*  Auble                  455 (on Ancestry)
                                447 (on MyHeritage)
                                440 (on Findmypast)
                                440 (on Family Search)

*  Vaux                    397  (on Ancestry)
                                406 (on MyHeritage)
                                266 (on Findmypast)
                                266 (on Family Search) 

*  Smith 
        1,391,108 (on Ancestry)
                       1,363,921 (on MyHeritage)
                       1,371,689 (on Findmypast)
                       1,371,689 (on Family Search)

FamilySearch and Findmypast have the same number of entries for each surname - I think FamilySearch provided the index and images to Findmypast.

Ancestry,com, MyHeritage and FamilySearch created separate census indexes using paid and volunteer indexers - that is probably why there is a difference between surnames on the different providers.  

It is important to understand what this collection represents and includes.  This collection is paper records created by the U.S. Census Bureau in 1940, and provided in digital format in 2012 to the record providers for a fee.  The record providers then used paid or volunteer indexers to create the different indexes.  

These records are Original Source records, with Primary Information (state, county, town address) and Secondary Information (for everything else), and Indirect Evidence of the person's name, age, and other items.

I use this database extensively to find my ancestors, my relatives, and other persons in my family tree.  I usually download the record image to my computer, summarize the information for each person in the household, and enter a Census event for the household, with the official census date, the census place, and craft a source citation.  I add a Note for each person with the location, date, and household summary information, and add a Media item for each person in the household. 

For those interested in mining this record collection for Hints of persons in their Ancestry Member Tree, the Ancestry.com database number is 2442.  Currently, I have over 3,100 Hints for persons in my Ancestry Member Tree who are indexed in this record collection.  I work on them occasionally, adding content and source citations to profiles in my RootsMagic family tree.  Of course, I have some accepted Hints from this collection already in my RootsMagic family tree and my Ancestry Member Tree, but not many.

I have not attached many MyHeritage Hints to my MyHeritage tree, which is now a year out of date.  On MyHeritage, I have 2,425 pending Record Matches for persons in my MyHeritage tree.

UPDATE:  Thanks to Karen who noted that Ancestry.com has free use of this collection.


NOTE:  Tuesday's Tips is a genealogy blog meme intended to provide information about a resource helpful to genealogists and family historians, especially in the U.S. online genea-world.

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1 comment:

Karen said...

FYI, the 1940 census is available free on Ancestry.Anyone can access it