The National Archives will release the 1940 Census on April 2, 2012. A countdown clock and background information about the 1940 Census are provided at the following link:
The release date is 72 years after the official census date for 1940. The 72-year delay in making the census available to the public for research is mandated by law.
The Good News: The 1940 Census will be available for online searching free of charge.
The Bad News: The 1940 Census will not have a name index when it opens on April 2, 2012. Indexes will rolled out later by Ancestry.com and perhaps other database providers.
What to do to get ready: In order to locate a “person of interest” in the 1940 census, I will need to know his or her address and the Census enumeration district in which that address was located.
When the digitized images of the 1940 Census are made available on April 2, 2012, I will be able to go right to the appropriate ED number and then browse for my person of interest's census entry.
Making My 1940 Census Persons of Interest List
1. I have started a list of the people I am interested in looking for in the 1940 census. This is my 1940 Census Persons of Interest List. I am thinking broadly--ancestors, their siblings, cousins, etc.--anybody to whom I am related.
2. I am collecting addresses for all the people on my 1940 Census Persons of Interest List. Sources that I am using for addresses include:
• City Directories. Some city directories are available online and many libraries hold local directories.
• The 1930 Census. This is useful for people who did not move between 1930 and 1940.
• World War II Draft Records. Ancestry.com and Ancestry Library edition offer the Old Man’s Draft registration records.
• Naturalization Petitions or Declarations of Intent. Those filed close to 1940 are useful. Many of these are available online.
3. Then I am identifying the enumeration district (ED) in which each address was located. I am adding that ED number to my 1940 Census Persons of Interest List.
There are currently several ways to do this. The NARA website provides maps and enumeration district descriptions for this process, but I have found that another website makes accessing these resources a bit easier:
One-Step Website with Helpful Tools and Info for 1940 Census Research
• Overview Essay
• Tools to help determine E.D. numbers, particularly for urban areas
• Quiz to step you through the process of determining and E.D. for each ancestor/relative. Go to http://stevemorse.org/census/quiz.php
Identifying EDs Using Steve Morse One-Step Tools
1. In some cases, I have a 1930 Census ED for a family member and he or she resided at the same address in 1940. In these cases, I use the One-Step 1930/1940 ED Converter Utility. Go to http://stevemorse.org/census/ed2040.php?year=1940
2. Some of my family members lived in a large city, so I am using the utility, Obtaining EDs for the 1940 Census in One Step (Large Cities). Go to http://stevemorse.org/census/index.html?year=1940
3. I also am searching the 1940 Census Maps for Enumeration District Numbers. Caution: Not all towns will have individual maps. Go to
In the search results, I click on the map to see a larger version of the map. Using the address of an ancestor from 1940, I locate where the address falls on the map and then look for the enumeration district number for that address. I have found that the map may have many other numbers on it. The ED number is a two-part number separated by a hyphen. The first number represents the county number and the second number the number of the enumeration district within that county. Save the enumeration district number for each family member you are researching.
4. Yet another approach is to use the 1940 Census Enumeration District Descriptions. In this approach, I go to http://stevemorse.org/ed/ed.php?year=1940
This is an important utility for rural areas where you know the state and county.
With my 1940 Census Persons of Interest List in hand, I will be able to efficently research the 1940 Census as soon as it is launched on April 2, 2012.
A Final Note
Ancestry.com has committed to creating an every-name index to the 1940 census, and will roll it out as it is developed. Ancestry.com will make the 1940 Census available FREE for home use until end of 2013 when it expects to have all of its indexing completed. BUT I don't want to wait until Ancestry puts up indexes for the states I am interested in. That's why I am doing the homework outlined above.