RootsTech 2012: 1940 census coming
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It was the talk of RootsTech 2012, lending an undercurrent of anticipation to the conference. The upcoming event is the release on April 2 of the 1940 U.S. Census, covering what author Tom Brokaw called "the greatest generation." FamilySearch is spearheading what will be a massive effort to index the census, and your help is needed.
"The United States has been doing censuses since the Constitution was ratified [June 21, 1788]," explained Don R. Anderson, worldwide support services division director of the Family History Department. A census is taken every 10 years, used to help determine the number of congressmen from each state in the House of Representatives, among other purposes.
"After 72 years — that's the statutory time established for privacy — the details of the census by household are released, and so that's the reason why 2012 is the year for the 1940 census."
Like other censuses, it provides a snapshot of every person residing in the nation in 1940, to the best of the ability of the census enumerators who visited households that year.
But the 1940 census is special for a number of reasons apart from the fact that it is the largest that has been released so far.
"If you think about 1940, that's the era of 'the greatest generation,' " Brother Anderson said, "just before [the United States] entered World War II, just coming out of the Great Depression. It's an incredible period of time, a group of incredible individuals, and we have the opportunity to be able to see and feel that experience inside of the census."
Many of the people enumerated on the census are still alive, of course. "But if people are not in the census, they almost certainly know someone who is: parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles who will be in the census. So it's a great experience to go back and learn a little bit about them."
Brother Anderson's own father, who is still living, will be in the census. "Frankly, I'm expecting it will open up some dialogue with him where we'll be able to talk a little bit about his childhood and do some reminiscing," he said.
Photo images of the census will appear on the website of the National Archives. But in raw form, they will not be very useful, because the only way to navigate them is to know the enumerator district in which one's ancestor lived and to look through the images one by one, Brother Anderson said. That's where the indexing effort comes in.
"What we'll do, along with two partners, findmypast.com and archives.com, is utilize volunteers to index the records," he said. "And what we mean by index is essentially transcribe every name for a computer-searchable index.
For several years, the Church through FamilySearch has had a volunteer indexing program in place, marshaling the efforts of more than 100,000 Church members plus other volunteers to index family history records. This, in effect, will be an expansion of that effort. "We're looking to add approximately 100,000 more volunteers to enable us to do the 1940 census in a timely fashion," Brother Anderson said. "And we expect to have about 500 genealogical societies who will participate in this as well."
Once the project is finished, the indexed records and the images will be available on the website, familysearch.org.
For more information or to sign on as a volunteer, go to www.the1940census.com.