If you want to find something — or someone — in the 1940 Census, there are two easy steps you have to follow.
First, you have to know, roughly, where you want to look. The census is organized by what’s called an “enumeration district,” which is the way that the U.S. census divides the country. To do that, the National Archives site has a tool that lets you focus in on the state, county and — in some cases — street level of any part of the country.
With that number in hand, you can look at the census lists from a given district to find the records you’re researching. In my case, I looked for my grandfather’s family in Hawaii and found his parents’ and siblings’ demographic, education and employment information. For example, it lists that my great-uncle was a “delivery boy for a tire repair shop” in 1940, when he was 22. (My grandfather — then a high-schooler — has no occupation listed on this census, but confirmed that this information is accurate.)
There are also other funny little tidbits to pick up from the census forms. For example, my family is from Hawaii, so the examples for “Industry” include “pineapple cannery, dry-goods stores, sugar-cane plantation, etc.” For D.C., those listed industries are a bit more standard: cotton mill, retail grocery, farm, shipyard, public school.
Unfortunately it’s not possible to look up individuals by name right now, as it takes a lot of effort to digitize the census records. According to a note on the site, the Archives are currently working on a volunteer initiative to make a name index “available for free.”
Those interested in helping with that effort can visit the 1940 Census Community Project.
The Verge: 1940 US Census online project already underway
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