Address Check: 1940 Census

1940s-era dresses on forms from the NC Museum of History populate the spaces between the stacks in the NC State Library during its census release celebration.

The National Archives released the 1940 Census online over a week ago. The day of that release, the North Carolina State Library held a special celebratory event with expert speakers, period music, cake, and an array of artifacts on display from the NC Museum of History’s collection. Although most of the promotional materials for the census release have been geared toward genealogists, the data can also be a terrific boon to site researchers. If your museum is located in an historic building or if the interpretation of a particular site is important to your institution in any way, start clicking! A wealth of new information may be at your fingertips.

Name indexes have not been completed yet for most states, and that poses a problem for genealogical researchers. Those investigating a specific location, however, are in luck. Find out who lived in your historic house or other structure in 1940. You may know family members already, but were any servants living there? Do the names and ages of children match the information you already have about your site’s inhabitants? In some cases, the Depression forced extended family members to move in together or larger households to take in boarders. Does your site reflect this pattern in any way?

Also, occupations changed quickly around 1940 as a result of upheavals during the Great Depression and the Second World War. Federal emergency relief agencies employed some people during the latter part of the Depression. By 1940 certain industries were gearing up to supply war needs overseas. Can you learn anything new about employment for the residents of your site?

Partly to track Depression-era migrations, the 1940 Census contained a question that had not been posed in previous censuses. “Where did you live in 1935?” The answers that your site’s residents offered for that question may supply new information and/ or additional research leads.

Ancestry.com is one of several online genealogical research databases posting the 1940 Census. Although access to most of the site’s material requires a subscription fee, 1940 Census data is freely available through that portal. Moreover, many public and academic libraries provide patrons free access to ancestry.com. The site also contains other resources such as city directories and draft records that can help flesh out the research leads the census records may provide.

Has the 1940 Census helped you make any exciting research discoveries? Can the new stories it suggests re-invigorate your site’s interpretation?

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About collectionsconversations

This blog will contain posts from the C2C project staff on a variety of topics related to collections care and disaster preparedness. Enjoy the posts and let us know if you would like additional information or have a topic you would like for us to address.

Posted on April 12, 2012, in Exhibitions, historic houses, historic sites, public programs and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I’ve just found this blog. What a great idea!

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