Thursday, March 29, 2012

1940 Census Records Unveiled on April 2

While Sunday’s season premiere of Mad Men spawned countless 1960s-themed viewing parties, next week the National Archives and Records Administration is “taking you back to the 1940s”. On Monday, April 2, at 9:00 a.m., the individual records from the 1940 U.S. Census will be released online, to the delight of genealogists, historians, and other researchers.

Why the delay? As NARA explains on its website, “[t]he 1940 and later censuses are not available for public use because of a statutory 72-year restriction on access for privacy reasons. (92 Stat. 915; Public Law 95-416; October 5, 1978).” (Seasoned legal researchers know that they can find this law via the U.S. Statutes at Large in our Federal Alcove, or in HeinOnline.)

Although the 72-year privacy window will have closed, limitations on the database will present additional hurdles: upon initial release, Census researchers will be able to browse only by address (though an army of dedicated volunteers will begin to create a name index to the massive data set upon its release). NARA has tips for collecting addresses and identifying Enumeration Districts, where the name-level records will be found.

The U.S. Census Bureau has created a page of fascinating historical information about the era and the Census, including socioeconomic statistics and short educational films. NARA provides a scan of a blank form from the era, along with frequently asked questions about Census research.

The Duke University Libraries own a number of publications by the U.S. Census Bureau, which contain more general statistical information collected about the population. To locate them, search our online catalog or Ask a Librarian.