2012 is a really special year. We’ve got an entire extra day to mess with at the end of February, which will be nice since according to some folks the world is going to end (again) in December. We’ve got all the excitement and discussion (because that’s what we call it in my bi-partisan family) of a presidential election. However, there is something else. Something that only comes every 10 years. Something that has me a’quiverin’ with anticipation. Yep, it’s time for another federal census to be released. Access to each census is restricted for 72 years, and for the 1940 census that 72 years is just about up. The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) will release the 1940 census on its website on April 2, 2012 at 9:00 a.m.
There are some good things and some things that will get better. For example, although the records will be available FREE at the NARA website, it’s going to take some time to get them indexed. For a while, unless you have an address or enumeration district, looking for your folks is going to be a little frustrating. The NARA has a great FAQ regarding the census, ideas on how best to construct searches without an index, and will have enumeration district maps available on-line to help with tracking down your quarry. This will be a little frustrating to new genealogists who have only ever known the indexed information available online, but to those folks who remember reading an entire enumeration district to hit paydirt it will bring back strong memories—in my case memories of nausea from watching the microfilm whiz by.
Along with the NARA website, Ancestry.com will also have free access but only through 2013. Indexing will be done by volunteers. If you’re interested there’s a webpage where you can register and download the templates you’ll need. There’s also a Twitter feed (@the1940census) and a Facebook page. All of this is great, but leaves my head spinning when I think back to the release of the 1920 census. It was quietly done, and we had to wait a loooong time for an index and an even longer time for digital access.
So. Leap Day will be fun, I don’t really think the world is going to end on December 21, and I love the excitement of a presidential election. 2012 is all good for me. April 2 will just be the buttercream (real buttercream, not that stuff the grocery store calls buttercream) icing on the cake. In the 1940 census, people were asked 45 questions about their households and identifies, for the first time ever, the person giving the information. Not only will I finally be finding people I have met (I know exactly where six of my great-grandparents were in 1940,) but I’ll finally know which of my grandmothers liked to play fast and loose with the facts.