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Today is an exciting day! The 1940 census is finally available!

So why does it take so long? The census is taken in the United States once every ten year. However, it is not available to the public until 72 years after the census has been enumerated. The 1940 census was taken in April and most areas were finished by May. So if a person was born after May, you probably will not find them on this census. If an individual died after May, you most likely will find them on this census.

The 1940 Woman

Federal census takers went out for the first time in 1790. Since then the census has been taken every ten years.

Why are census records so important? For genealogist and people searching their family history, it is a great resource. There are so many things you can learn about your family. The early census records give numbers. From 1790-1840 only the head of the household is listed. From there you will find out the number of boys, girls, women and slaves by age groups.

From 1850 onward every person in the household was listed, along with their ages.

Each census year gives different information. Most census records since 1850 list occupation, color, sex, real estate value, and where the individual, their mother and father were born. The 1900 census list the month of birth, if a man was a Civil War veteran and number of children a woman has had.

The 1850-1880 census records include specialty censuses such as: mortality, manufacturing and agricultural.

What happened to the 1890 census? It was destroyed in a fire, leaving a twenty year gap. City directories is one good way to try and fill in some of those missing pieces.

When I began my genealogical pursuit, it was still in the old days where I had to use a soundex and manually turn the microfilm machine. Today the census records are available online on sites such as Ancestry.com, Footnote, FamilySearch.org and Heritage Quest. Before you dismiss the Census, I’ve been able to learn a lot about my great-grandparents and backward through these records. If nothing else you get a small glimpse into their lives every 10 years.

The 1940 census is also available on the National Archives website. The National Archives, along with Ancestry.com, Fold3 {formerly Footnote}, FamilySearch.org and Heritage Quest will make the 1940 census available for free for the next eighteen months. All three sites have stated they will be working together to index the census records as quickly as possible. If you don’t want to wait and know where your family lived, you can go through each page until you find them. Otherwise, keep checking their websites for updates on the indexing process. The majority of Americans should be able to find their parents and/or grandparents in these records.

According to the Census Bureau Questions on the 1940 census include: Location of Household, Name, Age, Owned or Rent, Live on Farm, Residence on April 1, 1935, occupation and employment information, Income in 1939, Birth place of mother and father, mother tongue, Veteran, receiving Social Security, age at first marriage, number of marriages and children.

If you’re researching abroad: The United Kingdom began taking the census in 1801 and takes it every 10 years. 1941 was skipped due to WWII. There records are released 100 years after they were taken.

First National Census taken in Canada in 1871 and taken every 10 years. There census records are released 92 years after collection.

Australia takes their census every 5 years, and began regularly in 1961 {they were taken sporadically before then}. Most information prior to 2001 was destroyed. The National Archives will not release their records for 99 years.

If you’re anxious for the US 1950 census, you’ve got a ten year wait. It will be released to the public in April 2022.

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