Thursday, April 01, 2010

Census day 2010 and the 1940 census in 2012

A topic that you will hear more about in days to come is the 2010 census.  Census day will be April 1, 2010.  That is the day when any person living in the United States should be counted on an actual census document.  If a child was born on March 31, 2010, they would be recorded.  If a child was born on April 2, 2010, they would not be recorded.  The census will be a snapshot of life as it existed on April 1, 2010.

The purpose of a federal census is to record the number of people living in a specific area.  The government wants to know how many people live in each city, county, township, state, etc.  Population for an area is critical when it comes to the distribution of federal funds for hospitals, schools, emergency services, bridges, roads, etc.  Census forms will be mailed to you in March and must be filled out and returned.  If you do not fill out the form, a census taker will literally show up on your doorstep and make you fill it out.  There are only ten questions on the 2010 form and should be fairly easy to answer.

The data that we provide will be maintained and used by the government but most of the information we provide will be well guarded.  It is against federal law for anyone to divulge a name, address (including GPS coordinates), phone number or Social Security number off a census form.  Census Bureau employees are sworn to secrecy for life, not to disclose any confidential information.  Breaking this oath can result in a $250,000 fine, five years of imprisonment, or both.  With that in mind, I doubt anyone will be talking!  Actual census forms do not become public record for 72 years.  That means future genealogists cannot see the form that you fill out until April 1, 2082.

The next census that we can view as genealogists would be the 1940 census.  It will be available on April 2, 2012, that is if you go to the National Archives and wait in line.  When the 1930 census came out in 2002, did a great job of scanning the images and getting them online within a few weeks.  They literally started putting images online within hours of the census being released.  It obviously took some time for indexes to be compiled but you could at least browse records for a given county or city.  I would imagine that the 1940 census will be a big deal for them as well.

From what I have seen, the 1940 census is quite similar to the 1920 and 1930 censuses as most of the same information is provided.  Unique features include recording where each person lived in 1935, recording the highest level of education completed and also detailed occupational information that included a person’s 1939 income.  As an interesting addition, anyone recorded on lines 14 and 29 of the census form were pulled out as a random sample.  Those individuals were subject to around 20 additional questions that should prove to be quite interesting.  Researchers are going to hope their ancestor fell on lines 14 or 29.  It could be like winning the lottery when that happens!

One last thing that I noticed about the 1940 census, the person in the family who provided the information is supposed to have a circled X beside their name.  That might not seem important but it will lend a lot toward weighing the accuracy of the information provided.  In past censuses, we do not know who provided the information.  It could have been an older child, a grandmother, the neighbor or a border.  At least this time we can see if the husband or wife provided the actual information.  And just think…it is only two years until we get to see it for ourselves!


Anonymous said...

There are errors in fact in this essay about the 1940 census. Opening day will be April 2, 2012, and the schedules are being digitized and will be available on any home computer. You do not have to go to NARA to see it. See:

Anonymous said...


which has CORRECT information about the 1940 census. The opening date is April 2nd, 2012, and it will be available that day (schedule images) online.