Lessons Learned–1940 Census–‘in a rush’

I think the biggest lesson learned, with the unindexed 1940 Census, that some of us are in too much of a rush to capture information about our families. We want some search engine to “find my family”, oh, and in a hurry.

I had a long, back and forth, email conversation with a colleague about the 1940 census. He is going to wait until “it’s indexed”. As hard as I tried, with some of my experiences of last week, he’s waiting.

A goal I have for this year, is to clean up my database. In March, I spent a lot of time getting ready for 9:00 AM, Monday, April 2, 2012 to have access to them. I focused on the documentation for the information I had from the 1930 Census, including Citation material. I blogged about that earlier.

Lesson Learned–1940 Census Importance of Citation

I had my genealogy database management system in pretty good shape to give me a report to work from, for scanning the 1940 Census. One report I ran, gave me the 8 most important people to find, and where I should find them.

Learning of what I needed to find the Enumeration Districts from the 1930 Census, to narrow the scanning in the 1940 Census, I found that I should be able to find 89 people, based on what I had from 1930.

On Monday, at 6:00AM, I noticed that someone said images were coming online. Not waiting for 9:00, I started my quest. I have posted some of those success stories here already.

But, the point of this message, is that the lack of indexes, hurry up and wait, has forced me so slow down and look at these images, page by page to see what or who else I might find. Folks who I may not have found in the 1930 census.

I have focused on one County in Pennsylvania. I was born and grew up in that area, still have family there, and visit when I can.

I started on my 1940 list, but as I did, I started to see names that I knew as I scrolled by, but weren’t on my list. I had a goal to get at some of those 89 people on my To-Do list.

I hit the “low hanging fruit”, those on my list, and families I know should have been there, and were. Today, I am going back, ED by ED, to “get the rest of the story”. I have looked at about 200 pages of census records and found 5 more families, while looking for those who had not been so easy to find.

I re-ran my 1930 list, removed those who I have found, removed those who have died, and my list is down to about 50, but that doesn’t include from that I have added, just by looking, page by page.

I have added 24 new people to my database, just by reviewing the census images. I have added 4 households that I found in the 1940 Census that I had not found in the 1930.

Lesson Learned: stop and return rolling those microfilms, but in the comfort of your home, page by page, pays off sometimes.  At least it did for me.


6 Responses to Lessons Learned–1940 Census–‘in a rush’

  1. Barb says:

    Nice report Russ. I’m anxious too to get going, but so far have only done two. My total is 566 people (but total families is far less), so I’m waiting until all the indexing is done. Thanks for this.

    • Barb,

      Do you know where some of your folk were, in 1930?

      There are a number of folk that I have found, that I hadn’t looked for in the 1930 Census. So, by scrolling through this town, I actually am getting 3 census records. I now have street addresses, that I am going to take with me the next time I visit that town, to take pictures of their houses.

      Good luck,


  2. Jennifer says:

    Russ, I agree. I did not begin doing any research in census records until about 8 years ago, when everything was already indexed at Ancestry.com. Therefore, I’ve never searched the microfilm and just searched page by page. Now I realize exactly what I have been missing. Searching page by page helps you to see the larger community where your ancestors lived and makes you slow down a bit, as you say. I was looking for my great-great-grandparents in one township in Michigan but found their son instead. I would never have looked for him there because he lived in a city about 20 miles away in 1939, according to the city directory. I found my great-great-grandparents one township over. They were living with a daughter that I expected to find in a different town. The index would have helped me find all these people much quicker, but it wouldn’t have been as much fun.

    • Jennifer,

      Thank you and I agree with you about the fun.

      I have my list of those who aren’t where I thought they would be, but what I have done, is to go back through my notes for that person, to see if I am looking in the right place. In a couple of cases, I had information for a different location a little later in their timeline, so I scanned there and found them.

      In another case, I had very little information on this family, knew where they were born, but died and were buried somewhere else. Didn’t know why until I found them in the 1940 Census, not looking for anyone specifically, but through an Enumeration District, and there was the answer. The Wife was born in California, which is where the Husband was buried.

      Its been a fun journey.

      Sounds like you have had the same type of experience.

      Good luck,


  3. I unfortunately had to wait until the evening to get started on my search and after many frustrating starts & stops with all the activity making things very slow….I was very excited to see all the pages available.

    I too found new family members, and some I had thought moved out of the area, I found some I wondered what happened to them as no records had been found after the 1930 census. I have not found what I was highly anticipating, my mother or father, but I sure did have a great time looking at the first 66 pages I did that night and the several dozens since.

    Unfortunately for me, my mother has passed on and everyone else that would know where she was living when she was 4, not with her parents that much I know. I also cannot find my father as the address we thought he was at, on his fathers WWII draft card for 1940, was occupied by another family. A card I found in a box of letters from my grandmother and great grandmother shows a postmark in June from Spartanburg, SC, not Durham NC. Dad remembers that yeah, he was told he lived there for a short time. That city is one mighty large file. Guess I will be looking for awhile for him.

    I am not waiting for the index, this is much to much fun. The hunt is on!

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