Genealogy Today, by Betty Lou Malesky, CG
Update on the U.S. Census
Back in the "Dark Ages" before the Internet took us over, family researchers spent many hours and days cranking the microfilm reader to find their ancestors in the U.S. Census, no easy task without an index. Printed indexes began to appear in the 1970's. Heritage Quest (HQ) was the first company to digitize the census, publishing and selling it on CDs in the 1990s.
Then the new kid on the block, Ancestry.com, not only digitized the records but began publishing to the Internet in 2000. This was probably one of the single most important improvements ever in genealogical research. The only drawback was the indexes. Indexing had been farmed out to non-English natives in the Far East, and unfamiliar handwriting combined with strange names, words, and abbreviations resulted in many frustrating index errors.
Heritage Quest census indexes suffered similarly from off-shore indexing in Bangladesh. It, too, began placing the information from its census CDs online but could not keep pace with fast growing Ancestry.com and abandoned the effort. As a result, HQ's online census is incomplete, totally lacking records from 1830, 1840 and 1850 censuses and most of 1930.
Family Search and its vast army of volunteers are currently involved in a project to put the entire U.S. Census online with new indexes, created by researchers and double checked for accuracy. This month Archives.com (www.archives.com) in partnership with Family Search has announced the addition of these enhanced census images and related indexes to its website. The censuses will be included in Archives' low annual membership fee of $39.95 with census years 1850, 1870, and 1900 now available.
Archives partners with other leading family history websites in providing integrated record collections, discounted memberships, official certificates and other special promotions. It offers a free trial for seven days so researchers may explore the benefits of membership without risk or obligation. Archives has also pledged $5 million to Family Search to advance digitization of additional American records, the majority of which are not currently online.
The next big census story will appear on April 2, 2012 when the 1940 census is released to the public. Of course, for it to be fully useful, we'll have to wait for indexing to be completed. Since this will be the largest census online to date, it will no doubt take a few weeks or even months for the entire index to appear.
View the forms completed by households in 1940 at http://usa.ipums.org/usa/voliii/items1940.shtml. Every family member was asked 32 questions, including a new one, the amount of income earned in 1939 by each family member. Several questions pertain to whether a person is working, seeking work, hours worked, and weeks worked, likely to determine the extent of recovery from the Depression.
An additional 18 questions were asked of only a 5% sample of the population age 14 and over, those persons who were enumerated on lines 14 and 29 of the form. Unfortunately for genealogists, the father's and mother's birthplace are among questions no longer asked of every person. Other new questions asked in 1940 are whether a person had a social security number and whether a deduction for Federal Old-Age Insurance or Railroad Retirement was made from wages.
The National Archives has created an online resource to help you prepare for the arrival of the 1940 census at http://www.archives.gov/research/census/1940/start-research.html. And as usual, Steve Morse is out in front with preparations to help you find ancestors more easily with his search utilities at http://stevemorse.org/census, "Obtaining EDs for the 1940 Census in One Step (Large Cities)." Since census information is kept private for 72 years, many of us will be able to view our own census record for the first time next year.
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26 September 2011