Paying It Forward With the 1940 Census

10 Apr

Would you be surprised if I told you that thousands of people have contributed their time, at no charge, to help me with my genealogy research? Well it’s true! And I couldn’t have done it without them. Now it’s my turn to help others with their research. One way I am doing that is by volunteering as a transcriber for the 1940 census. By typing the census data into a form that the the computer can manipulate, an index will be created that will allow people to search for their ancestors by name, age, birthplace and other information recorded by the census takers in April of 1940.

The Federal census, taken every ten years, determines the number of seats each state has in the United States House of Representatives. It also collects information about the population, such as how many people are employed, the number of people in a household, and levels of education. The type of data collected varies with each census. The first Federal census took place in 1790 and counted 3.9 million people. Some states have conducted their own, separately from the Federal government. Also, there have been some special censuses for specific purposes, such as mortality and agriculture.

The 1940 census was released on April 2nd, at the end of the required 72-year waiting period. It contains over 3.8 million pages of hand-written information. As a transcriber, my job is to read the hand-written census pages and type the information into a computer form. Each page is transcribed by two different people. The data is compared and if differences occur it is up to an arbitrator to determine which is correct. After enough data is compiled, an index will be created.

Without an index, you have to know where the person was living in 1940 so that you can determine the correct enumeration district. Then, you still have to search through many pages of handwritten records to find the right one. Census takers went door to door to collect information. If no one was home, they returned at a later time. These records will be recorded on pages at the end of the enumeration district, making them even more difficult to find. Having an index means you can find the person you are looking for quickly and easily.

I am deeply indebted to all the people who spent their time transcribing the records that I have used in my genealogy research. I am paying them back by paying it forward to researchers in the future who use the 1940 census index.

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Posted by on April 10, 2012 in Uncategorized



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