Relatively Speaking: The 1940 Census

In only 35 days genealogy geeks everywhere will rejoice in the release of the 1940 Census. It will be the first Federal Census in which my parents make an appearance. When I came up with 12 Genealogy Goals for 2012, goal #3 was to “Find all my relatives in the 1940 census.”  But just how many relatives is that? Until I started gathering notes, I didn’t realize just how much my great-grandparents’ families grew from the time of their immigration between 1900 and 1909 to 1940.  Here is a chart that outlines the, er, relative growth of the families:

The additions in the great-grandparent generation or above were immigrations, and decreases were due to deaths. The additions for the grandparents and below were births. I’m counting my paternal grandmother in the above counts because she was alive, but I’ve yet to actually find her on any census ever. And I’m not double counting the several relatives that were counted more than once in prior censuses!  The spouse category includes all spouses of any generation that are not directly related to me. So, it appears I only have to find 108 relatives. 

The good news is, this is roughly about 32 households.  Of those 32 households, 27 live in the city of Philadelphia which had a 1940 population of “only” 1.93 million.  It appears I have my work cut out for me! 

What am I doing to prepare for the research? Well, other than mapping out the list of individuals that should be alive, I’m trying to determine their 1940 addresses.  Mostly I’m relying on the 1930 addresses, but in some cases I’m using other available documents like death or marriage records if the events took place closer to 1940. I even have my grandfather’s driver’s license from 1940, so I am confident I can find my father at that address with his parents.

After compiling a list of the possible addresses and/or what the 1930 ED (enumeration district) was if I’m using that address, I then head to Steve Morse’s Unified 1940 Census ED Finder. Unfortunately, for a city as large as Philadelphia the result usually yields two or more possible ED numbers based on either the 1930 ED or an actual street address.  To narrow it down even further, I am literally mapping out the address and relying on Steve’s links to the descriptions or maps of the EDs.

While this whole exercise would bore most of my non-genealogy friends to tears, the research has been fun.  Well, not as much fun as converting surnames to Soundex codes back in the day and scrolling through microfilm, but fun. While an index will certainly make research easier, I’m still confident that the ease of using free digitized images will make finding all 108 relatives relatively easy.  And I’m sure I’ll find some surprises once I find these families!

4 thoughts on “Relatively Speaking: The 1940 Census

  1. Good post! Like you I liked figuring out Soundex codes too. The internet is a great help to genealogists but I’m glad I had the thrill of the “olden days.” What a challenge it was for us, and how proud we were of our findings after searching the hard way.

  2. Hi,

    Researchers aren’t going far enough in using our Large City ED finder on the site. In most cases you should get down to a single ED #. The problem is the short instructions we have to add a “cross street or back street” after you put in your target street. Those cross streets and the back street should be on the same physical block as the original address. In addition, we want you to enter both cross streets AND the back street on that physical block if you haven’t gotten down to a single ED #. There are situations due to the geometry of the blocks, and even situations where I put in street names that aren’t in an ED (for example, for NYC EDs that are 1/2 block in size, I added in the other two street names on the block). where you can’t get down to a single ED #, but in most cases you should.

    So I suggest that researchers who haven’t gotten down to a single ED # in a large city, and haven’t entered the other 3 street names on the same physical block, to go back and redo their searches.

    Another thing you should know, is that if you did get down to 2 EDs, you can click on the ED # box and see the text definition which in large cities does not show any street names. However, on that definition line, you will see a column labelled T1224 and beneath that “view”. If you click on view it will show you the scan of the ED definition for that number, and you **will** see the street names within that ED, and they will be for ***each** block in that ED…. and they will be in the order of north/east/south/west side of the block. Thus you should using this information decide which ED is the one you want to search. You don’t need to use the city maps.

    Hope that helps.

    Joel Weintraub

  3. Thanks, Joel…got it. The site is great. My point, not very well made, was that I really need to look at a map and not just use an address because a map gives me the cross streets. It isn’t that hard to do, just an extra step or two that you probably don’t have to so if you’re researching in a small town.

  4. Donna,

    WOW, you make me feel completely inadequate in preparing for the 1940 census. My family seemed to be quite mobile during the 20’s through the 30’s and am afraid I will be doing a lot of fruitless browsing until an index is completed. But who knows, sometimes I get lucky.

    You’ve given me some ideas on getting myself prepared.

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