Genealogy Today, by Betty Lou Malesky, CG
Finding Your Family in the 1940 Census
Often in writing a column or giving a lecture I have said, "Any record may contain an error." It doesn't matter if it's an original source of primary information with direct evidence, it may still be incorrect. I proved those words true again last week.
Many of us who appear in the 1940 census have been patiently waiting for April to come so we could find our record. Since the census index won't be complete for many months, to find an entry now you need the residence address so you can identify the Enumeration District (ED) where the persons lived. If you know the ED from the 1930 census, use it in 1940 also. Since my parents did not live the same place in 1930, I called my sister who was born in July 1940 and asked her for the address on her birth certificate.
On April 2, census day, the National Archives (NARA) website was swamped by 9:00 a.m. with over 37 million hits in the first 24 hours. I decided to wait until April 3 to see myself in the census. Armed with the address, 1447 W. 122nd St., Cleveland, Ohio I had no trouble finding the ED on Steve Morse's One Step site, http://stevemorse.org/census/quiz.php also accessible from
When I tried to find the census record, however, the addresses didn't correspond to the address my sister had given me. The census addresses were higher numbers: 3600, 3700, and 3800s. When I looked at the map on the NARA site the problem was obvious.
Having lived in the Cleveland area for 45 years I'm familiar with the street numbering. All streets running south are numbered beginning at Lake Erie. Therefore number 1447 was not a valid address on W. 122nd Street. Cleveland's west boundary is W. 117th Street where the suburb of Lakewood begins. Lakewood has no numbered streets; for example in Lakewood, W. 122nd is renamed Ridgewood Avenue. Leaving Lakewood going south and re-entering Cleveland the street is once again W. 122nd, hence the higher numbers I found in the census.
Thinking about the problem overnight, I seemed to remember my mother saying they lived on W. 112th Street until they bought the house where we grew up in Lakewood in 1941. It appears my sister's birth certificate has been wrong all these years.
So back to Steve Morse and the NARA census where I quickly found the ED for W. 112th Street. Sure enough, there I am with my parents at 1447 W. 112th Street -- Betty Lou, age 1, born Ohio. My father, a polisher for a brass manufacturer, paid $25 per month rent. My enthusiasm at finding the entry was tempered a little as I looked at the ages of other entrants on the page and realized I might be the only one still alive! Yikes!
The moral of this story is to make sure you have the right address if you want to use the 1940 census. I checked Ancestry.com this week and find it also now has all 3.8 million 1940 U.S. Federal Census images online. Plug your desired address into its ED finder and you're on your way. My understanding is that, at least for the time being, the 1940 census can be searched without an Ancestry subscription.
Ancestry's site is easier to use than the NARA site, and the images are much clearer and easier to navigate. Also if you tell Ancestry which states you are interested in, you will receive an email when those states have been indexed.
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20 April 2012