In tech first, US puts entire 1940 census online
The National Archives opened a treasure trove to genealogists and historians on Monday, releasing the 1940 national census in its entirety -- and doing so for the first time online.
By going onto 1940census.archives.gov, anyone with an Internet connection can plunge into 3.9 million digitally scanned pages of census records via a search function based on location.
In the coming months, an army of 300,000 volunteers, sifting electronically through every page, will build a database that will make it possible to search the website by name as well.
By law, in the United States, detailed information about individuals from a decennial census -- a precise snapshot of every household in every place in every state -- can only be made public 72 years after it is taken.
"We now have access to a street-level view of a country in the grips of a depression and on the brink of global war," said National Archives chief David Ferriero at a launch event in Washington.
For a growing number of Americans researching their own family trees, "it's almost like Christmas," said Ferriero, who looked up his own Italian immigrant grandparents using their street address in a Massachusetts mill town.
Some 120,000 enumerators collected detailed information about 132,163,569 people -- more than 21 million of whom are still alive today -- for the 1940 census, Ferriero said.
It was the 16th decennial census since the founding of the United States, but the first to ask a raft of socio-economic questions designed to measure the impact of the Great Depression.
Researchers can go back in time to discover the names, ages and relationships of everyone in a given household, what those people did for a living, what they earned, even whether they had a radio or a flush toilet.
The census takers also asked respondents where they'd been living five years earlier -- a question that could help pinpoint Depression era migration patterns.
Previous censuses were released on microfilm by the National Archives, which is hosting a genealogical fair in Washington on April 18-19.
(c) 2012 AFP