The Release of the 1940 Census

“The 1940 Census release is the most significant record to be made available to genealogists since 2002 with the release of the 1930 Census. This Census is an economic snapshot of the Great Depression, and a fascinating look at the United States on the eve of World War II.” — State Librarian, Caroline (Cal) Shephard, State Library of North Carolina.  

1940 Census poster, courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division.

The 1940 census was officially released by the National Archives on April 2, 2012. Unlike the release of previous census records on microfilm (you purchased in advance and it was shipped out on the day of release), this was the first census that was “made available as free digital images” at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) (http://1940census.archives.gov/). The Nebraska 1940 census index is now available online at https://familysearch.org/1940census/1940-census-nebraska/

The 1940 U.S. Census Community Project  is a joint initiative between NARA, Archives.com, FamilySearch.org, findmypast.com, ProQuest (HeritageQuest) and other leading genealogy organizations. Presently, the images for the entire 1940 census are browsable on the Project sites linked in the previous sentence and they are updating continually the availability of indexed states. These partners of NARA have enlisted a community of volunteers to index the census and thereby make a “free index of the census records and corresponding images“ that “will be available to the public for perpetuity.” Ancestry.com is indexing the 1940 census, but they have hired commercial keying vendors to index the census.

The Nebraska History Library (NSHS) has 1940 Nebraska city directories and phone books (if they exist) for communities in Nebraska. These publications can help assist you in your research in the census by verifying street addresses for your ancestors who lived in larger communities in the state. The Nebraska Library Commission is posting online 1940 Nebraska White Pages from Nebraska phone books.

Frequently Asked Questions About the 1940 Census  has been posted on the NARA website.  We will be posting to our website some general information about using and locating the 1940 census online for Nebraska that will direct you to the sites listed in this blog as well as additional information as it becomes available (including when the index for Nebraska is completed). The Nebraska Library Commission has a web page devoted to the 1940 census that includes a link to another web page on their site titled Genealogy Sources for Nebraska.  You might also want to review other genealogical sources that the NSHS Library/Archives has available that might assist you in your 1940 census research that are listed in A Guide to Genealogical Research  at the Nebraska State Historical Society.

Even if you have been researching your Nebraska family for a number of years and personally feel that there is no new information this census could possibly give you, take the time to locate your family members in this census.  I didn’t think there would be anything new about my family members, and I am now trying to resolve a question about my aunt on the census that I was not aware of previously.  (Updated June 28, 2012) — By Cindy S. Drake, Library Curator

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5 Responses to The Release of the 1940 Census

  1. Suzy Giannoble says:

    The 1940 census searchable-by-name is now available on familysearch.org for both Nebraska and Iowa. The indexing is not as thorough, in my opinion, as that done in ancestry.com; however, that is understandable due to the volume of information and the haste to get easier access on the web.

    However, with some inventiveness and persistence, relatives can be found. My dad’s name came out as Burnlbey … instead of Barnebey … found finally by using my dad’s first name and searching through Omaha/Florence! (Remember to try “?”for a single letter wild card key or a * for multiple letters … this one was too far off, but it worked in several other cases.

    We found other names only by looking for their relatives with whom they were temporarily staying, using their son’s name which was more unusual than the parents first names.

    Just be creative in your search methods!

    I found the images to be good quality, and it beats the search-geographically of the NARA system by far!

    There is, as of yet, no way to get the indexing corrected by submitting info. However, all this will come in due time, I’m sure. I’m keeping track of errors I find so that they can be turned in once the process to do so is available.

    The other item to be aware of is that the system gets overloaded in the evenings, so patience is required! Saving the images to a file on your desk top works well for printing later…so you can accomplish as much as possible when the system is available and response is good.

  2. pgaster says:

    Thank you for your comments regarding your personal experience with the Nebraska and Iowa 1940 Census Index on FamilySearch. I believe that Ancestry.com has not completed their 1940 Nebraska Census Index at this time. I have been reading online comments that for the States that have been completed in both FamilySearch and Ancestry.com that FamilySearch does have a higher rate of accuracy than Ancestry.com. However, personally I also found a spelling error in the FamilySearch for my uncle in that his name Ervin was misspelled as Craven. I looked at the page myself and I could see why if someone did not know the name they would interpret it that way. I look forward to when you can make comparisons between both 1940 Nebraska Census indexes since perhaps if you don’t find an ancestor in one, you might find them in the other index!

    We appreciate all of your comments since your experience will aid others in their research. We hope other researchers will post their experiences as well in using the 1940 Nebraska Census.

  3. The 1940 Census is available for free on Ancestry.com through 2013…

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