As the release date approached, I received no fewer than 30 messages from friends and family asking if I had heard the 1940 census was coming out. I just smiled and thanked them for the news. Like any hardcore genealogist, I had waited for that day for years. On April 2nd the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) released the 1940 census, after 72 years of keeping it under lock and key.
I can remember standing outside of the Seattle branch of NARA in 2002 waiting for the release of the 1930 census, with a handful of other genealogists hoping to score a microfilm reader and spend the entire day hunting for ancestors. At that time my friends and family had no idea it was happening, nor was genealogy even on their radar.
You may recall, back in those dark ages of genealogical research, microfilm was the best way to search the census. Sites like Familysearch.org and Ancestry.com were just beginning to make census images available online and their search tools were not as advanced as they are today. Genealogists like myself spent a half hour, usually longer, searching for an ancestor’s entry. Today with the use of an index and a little luck, researchers can find their family in seconds.
On April 2nd I was awake early checking over my notes and prioritizing which ancestors I would search for as soon as NARA released the images. What I experienced that day were delays and exasperation. It took hours, not seconds to get the site to load and after four hours of hitting the refresh button on my browser, I finally gave up in frustration. According to a CNN article, “1940 census data causes modern tech mess“, NARA received 22.5 million hits on their site that day. I estimate that 1000 of those hits were from me trying to load just one image.
Before the release, Ancestry.com and Familysearch.org vowed to index the entire census and make it searchable by name as soon as possible. Here is the progress to date:
|New Hampshire||searchable||in progress|
|New Jersey||15%||in progress|
|New Mexico||93%||in progress|
|New York||37%||coming soon|
|North Carolina||16%||in progress|
|North Dakota||99%||in progress|
|Rhode Island||65%||in progress|
|South Carolina||21%||in progress|
|South Dakota||100%*||in progress|
|West Virginia||49%||in progress|
|District of Columbia||49%||searchable|
* This state is 100% indexed but not yet searchable.
Based on the progress so far, it’s likely that the census will be completely indexed by the end of the summer. I think it’s time to start a “genealogist office pool” to see who can guess the date correctly. My pick is September 1, 2012, you can enter your guess in the comments below!