What is So Great

About the 1940 Census?

written April 1, 2011

I already stated on the front page just how excited I am about the impending release of the 1940 census. I am certain that at least 50% of you..well, you probably just think I am completely nuts or at least headed in that direction. You are probably asking, "so what is so great about another census record?"

Well folks, this is not just any old census record. It is the 1940. To me it is right up there with the 1850 (first listing of ALL family members) and the 1880 (relationships listed). Well, I guess to be fair, all census records probably shine for one reason or another. But...


The 1940 census asks many questions that have never been asked before.

For any persons over the age of 14- their employment status and income or their education and there are 13 different questions relating to that subject alone.

For any females in the household, married or currently single 'Have they been married before' (this helps if a daughter is divorced or widowed perhaps or maybe just separated.)

There are questions about Veteran status of the parents or if the father is dead are they receiving a pension.

There are questions regarding a person's residence on April 1, 1935. This is a bonus because you not only find out where the person was living in the 1940 census and THEN where they were in 1935!

Now for the other reasons which I feel are much more exciting---

There were many events and happenings between the years of 1930 and 1940 that probably had a lot of bearing on the movement of our ancestors.

There was the Great Depression- this caused several persons to loose their homes or become unemployed and sometimes families doubled up in their living arrangements.

There was the Dust Bowl years - also known as the "Black Blizzard". This phenomenon affected the states of Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Texas. When this occurred many people migrated to other areas such as California or back home to Indiana and some to Illinois. But in any case they were "in transit" from where we last found them in the 1930 census. Some even went to one area and then to another. Many unfortunately died during this time. The 1940 census gives us the opportunity to see just where they went to as most of us have ancestors that the last time we found them they were in one of the listed states. Of course, knowing where they were in also 1935 will show us if they did move a lot.

The TVA and WPA programs were created during these years also that provided work when none other was available. Many men traveled to other areas to support their families and stayed in rooming houses.

Maybe I am very excited because I have many ancestors that married in 1928-1930 and there is only one child listed in the household and I just know there were others.

There are also questions pertaining to if a person is working in their usual profession and if not, what was their usual profession.

Especially in our arena of research in the state of Indiana; there seemed to be a huge industrial shift around 1928-1930. Many of the previous farmers relocated from the rural areas into Indianapolis for better jobs in the factories such as Diamond Chain, Allison, and some of the glass works. The automobile was really beginning to shine during this time and many men are listed as auto mechanics. There were most likely many families who relocated to the bigger cities.

In the end, I tend to view the census records as a "camera" to the past and "I am getting a brand new camera in April of 2012 and this one has a much clearer lens....."