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:

State                       Familysearch.com     Ancestry.com 
Alabama 100%* in progress
Alaska searchable in progress
Arizona searchable in progress
Arkansas 50% in progress
California 99% in progress
Colorado searchable in progress
Connecticut 34% in progress
Delaware searchable searchable
Florida searchable in progress
Georgia 32% in progress
Hawaii 100%* in progress
Idaho searchable in progress
Illinois 30% in progress
Indiana 100%* in progress
Iowa 97% in progress
Kansas searchable in progress
Kentucky 39% in progress
Louisiana 100%* in progress
Maine 99% searchable
Maryland 30% in progress
Massachusetts 27% in progress
Michigan 25% in progress
Minnesota 86% in progress
Mississippi 100%* in progress
Missouri 63% in progress
Montana 100%* in progress
Nebraska 79% in progress
Nevada searchable searchable
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
Ohio 33% in progress
Oklahoma 100%* in progress
Oregon searchable in progress
Pennsylvania 19% in progress
Rhode Island 65% in progress
South Carolina 21% in progress
South Dakota 100%* in progress
Tennessee 27% in progress
Texas 38% in progress
Utah searchable in progress
Vermont searchable in progress
Virginia searchable in progress
Washington 100%* in progress
West Virginia 49% in progress
Wisconsin 30% in progress
Wyoming searchable 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!