For historians and genealogists alike, the 1940 census release is quite likely the most important release of ancestry information in the past ten years. The census release covers the 1930s which coincides with the time frame in which the United States experienced the Great Depression.
The U.S. government has, for 72 years, kept secret detailed information on 132 million individuals that were alive during the 1930s. That information, the 1940 census, will be publicly disclosed on April 2, 2012. Anyone with access to the internet will be able to freely access the information, although, one will not immediately have the ability to query the database using names.
Harvard University scholar and professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. believes that the release of the Great Depression era records will be a:
“…great contribution to American society.”
Gates went on to call the wealth of information scheduled for release a “goldmine.” The Harvard professor is a scholar of black history and has a new PBS series called Finding Your Roots which is scheduled to air on March 25.
U.S. Census Bureau data clearly conveys that of the 132 million individuals surveyed by over 120,000 enumerators, 21 million are still alive today.
The 1940s census survey was composed of 34 primary inquiries and an additional 16 inquiries which only 5% of the population was subjected to. Information contained within should offer insight into the lives of those who lived through the Great Depression.
During the Great Depression, United States citizens were subjected to widespread unemployment, homelessness, lack of necessities such as food as well as water, irregular salaries, and more.
Census historian Margo Anderson stated that the census release may divulge information on Japanese-Americans placed in internment camps during WWII.
At least a couple of websites dedicated to genealogy such as FamilySearch.com and Ancestry.com are intent on indexing the majority of the fields in addition to providing access to proprietary tools which can be utilized to search the census records which will be otherwise unsearchable upon initial release by the U.S. government.
According to a senior adviser for Ancestry.com, Josh Hanna, the database will be the largest of its type and access to the index and tool will be free through the end of 2013.
What do you hope to learn from the information contained within the 1940 census?
Great Depression Video: