What is the Value of the 1940 U.S. Census? – My Take

Randy Seaver, of Geneamusings, began a conversation on Monday, about the value of the 1940 U.S. Census to genealogists.  You can read about it here: http://www.geneamusings.com/2012/06/what-is-value-of-1940-us-census.htm

I thought this was a great topic and wanted to write a little bit about it, more than I could fit into a comment section.

I was one of those who could hardly wait for the release of the 1940 census.  I was fortunate enough to have been invited to Ancestry.com’s headquarters in January 2010 as part of their Customer Appreciation.  Part of the tour included discussion of their preparations for the 1940 census.  I remember joking that I didn’t care if the world ended in December 2012 (according to the Mayans, some thought) as long as I got to see the 1940 census first.

Why was I so excited?  What did I expect to find?  I thought that it would be most helpful in my search for extended family, in finding out about births, marriages, deaths, and moves.  I thought that I already knew about my direct ancestors.  But as I began to search for them when the images were made available in early April, I found out that I was wrong.

I searched page by page in the small town where my mother’s paternal grandmother lived, but couldn’t find her.  I looked again at where she lived in 1930 and checked the area again.  Puzzled, I told my mother I couldn’t find her.  My mother told me that, after living with them for two weeks, her grandmother had moved to Saint Louis to live with her other son and had stayed with his family for the remainder of her life.  I think my mother told me that she took her chickens with her!

I also looked for my mother’s maternal grandparents, positive that they were living at the Chatham Hotel in Kansas City.  I easily found the hotel but they weren’t there.  Disappointed, I asked my mother.  She said that they might have been in an apartment  in Kansas City or they might have been with a daughter in Idaho.  I found the daughter and also the house that my mother said her grandparents rented there; I also searched the surrounding area but have not found them.  At this point I’m waiting for Missouri to be indexed.

So I didn’t know as much as I thought.

You may be happy to know that my father’s maternal grandmother was right where she was supposed to be.  A son and a daughter who weren’t with her in the 1930 census were there in 1940; they had all been in the same house in 1935.  I was happy to see them.

My conclusion:  the 1940 census definitely has value to me!  It led me to new information about my direct ancestors and to have conversations with my mother that I hadn’t had.  Perhaps most importantly, it has reinforced two principles vital to genealogists:  1) Don’t assume; verify everything; and 2) Talk to your living relatives!

I have helped index the census and am eagerly awaiting more finds when other states are indexed.  I hope that you are finding time to help with the indexing.  In doing genealogy without a budget, I’ve found so many free sites made possible by the generosity of others.  Indexing is a great way to pay back.

Tomorrow, I’ll talk about the questions in the 1940 census  and my feelings about what was added and what is missing.



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