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As this is a blog with more than a passing interest in genealogy, and as a person who has whiled away more hours than he might admit to chasing wasps in libraries, the anticipation of the release of the United States Census for 1940 next week is almost like Christmas come early.

America, unlike Britain, does not wait the full century before releasing her census details so this is a special treat for us seeking say Grandpa’s sister who was supposed to have married a Dutchman and moved to California.

The United States was a very different country 72 years ago.  Then the country only held 132,164,569 people about a third of today.  And it was smaller, as Alaska and Hawaii did not join until 1959.  This is the Census that maps the generation that had come through the Great War and the boom of the 20’s only to endure the Depression in the thirties.  It is the world of Jazz and Steinbeck, Disney and the Waltons.  Their children so lovingly noted by the enumerators would be marching to World War II.

Access is to be free.  An astonishing idea to a Brit, whose government are both grudging about releasing information and rapacious in charging absurd sums to amateur family historians to access and download the information.  And it will be available on-line, so no longer will one have to rummage through boxes of fiche trying to slot the damned things the right way round into the readers without burning oneself or banging ones face off the hood.

One fly in the ointment is that it will not immediately be searchable by name.  To begin with you will need to have an address to determine the Census Enumeration District (ED) and then you read a digitized sheet.  So it might discourage the new enthusiast who might feel it limited.  But as they hope to have a fully digitised name searchable version up and running by late 2013 we can afford a little wait!

If you want to help them digitize it faster you can join the 1940 US Census Project and help out.

Copyright David Macadam 2012