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1940 U.S. Census Community Project Announces Call For Volunteers to Create Free, Searchable Database of 1940 U.S. Census Records

Most Informative Record of American Life prior to U.S. WWII Involvement Has Potential to Unlock New Insights into the Past, Discovery of Unknown Family Connections

WASHINGTON, D.C. (April 2, 2012) – The 1940 U.S. Census Community Project—a joint initiative between the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), Archives.com, FamilySearch.org, findmypast.com, and other leading genealogy organizations—announced today a national service project to create a free, high quality, searchable database of the 1940 U.S. census records. Through the indexing efforts of online volunteers across the U.S., records from the 1940 census that were closed by law for 72 years will be easier to find. These census records capture countless untold stories of those who lived through the Great Depression—great men and women who have been called “the greatest generation.”

With the support of NARA, the 1940 U.S. Census Community Project is leading the digital transformation effort to create an index entirely by online volunteers. Fueled by the joy of discovering fascinating surprises from their own family history, volunteer indexers are excited to join many thousands of Americans in an online community effort to make the historic 1940 U.S. census readily searchable for others.

“Many of us living today know someone in the 1940 U.S. census, but we may not know much more than their name or the town in which they lived,” said David S. Ferriero, archivist of the United States. “The 1940 census will unlock some of these mysteries for us. We are delighted to join with the U.S. Census Community Project to produce an index which will make this census much more user-friendly.”

When complete, the index and images will also be available online for free through the sponsoring organizations’ websites. Those interested in lending a hand can learn more and sign up to be an official 1940 U.S. census volunteer indexer at the 1940 census website (the1940census.com). The project aims to make available to the public a fully functional, free, and searchable record database by the end of 2012.

“Many parallels exist between life in 1940 and 2012: international conflict, the political intrigue of an election year, and efforts to rebuild a flagging economy,” said Dan Lynch, spokesperson for 1940 U.S. Census Community Project. “Our goal is that through the work of online volunteers across the nation, a fully digitized and searchable database of the 1940 census records can help strengthen connections between Americans, their families, and an important time in our collective history while bringing renewed understanding of the resolute courage past generations had in restoring America.”

The 1940 U.S. Federal Census is the largest, most comprehensive, and most recent record set available featuring the names of people living in the U.S. at the time. In fact, the census contains more than one million pages and features a depth of detail that paints a more complete portrait than was previously available of the 132 million people living in the U.S. during the Great Depression. From this new vantage point, we can learn about the life and times of our people living 72 years ago. Several new census questions appeared for the first time in 1940, including:

  • Where people lived five years prior to the census
  • Highest educational level achieved
  • Detailed income and occupation

Perhaps more so than at any other time in American history, these individuals taught us lessons in hardship and survival. The Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, and the subsequent New Deal programs have left an indelible footprint on American history. In addition, many of these men and women listed in the 1940 census went on to support the fight or actually fought in World War II. Helping index the census, for many, is a way of giving something back to this great generation and rightfully preserving their place in our nation’s history.

About the 1940 U.S. Census Community Project

The 1940 U.S. Census Community Project is a web-based, national service project with the goal of creating as soon as possible a free, high quality online index linked to the complete set of census images. The index will allow the public to easily search every person found in the census and view digital images of the original census pages. The collection will be available online for free to the general public at 1940census.archives.gov, Archives.com, FamilySearch.org, and findmypast.com, the respective website sponsors of the community project. Archives.com and findmypast.com will make substantial financial contributions to make the 1940 U.S. census online name index possible and will work with the nonprofit organization FamilySearch to bring additional new historic records collections online—making even more highly valued family history resources available to the entire genealogical community.