What Can You Learn From The 1940 Census Records?

By | June 21, 2017

Census records contain a lot of information that we can use to help build our family tree. They can tell us where our ancestors came from, where they lived, their occupation, their marriage details and so much more. In this post I will share with you what you can learn from the 1940 census records. So please read on.

1940 Census Records

Before I begin!

I just want to share you with you the importance of census records before I delve into what the most recent census records has to offer.

When I first began to explore my family history I used what information that my father had researched. Then after that I asked relatives for any help that they could offer me in piecing together my family tree.

Genealogy and Family History

Once I had collected all that I could from these FREE options I went into the census records. These are a great tool for the family historian. They can help you build your family tree by giving you details about your ancestors.

But they can also give you information on their siblings as well. From there you can go even deeper and look at their descendants as well. Suffice to say I did go overboard with my research. I looked at all possible relations that I could find.

With census records you can find so many of your relations. It is hard to stop. It is if you have got the bug. So please try not to go overboard otherwise you will get overwhelmed with all of the information that you will collect.

What about the stories?

Genealogy is all about collecting names, dates, places and all manner of information. But family history is about finding the stories that binds these pieces of information together. And you can find these stories from the censuses.

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Just take a closer look at the details!

Asked yourself the question, “Why did my ancestor keep moving about the country?“. Was it that they were trying to find work, or was it some other reason?

Or maybe, “Why did my ancestor marry late in life?“. What was the reason behind that?

These two questions are examples of what I have asked myself about my own family tree. And they maybe common to you as well. There are just so many more questions that you could ask yourself from the information that you find from this type of records.

So once you have collected all that you can, and have entered that information into your genealogy software program then look a little closer at what you have. It may astound you as to what you will discover by taking a second look.

Searching A Little Closer at the 1940 Census Records

The most recent census records from 1940 offers the family historian the most amount of information from any other official record. It gives us a snapshot of our ancestors lives on April 1st 1940, (when the census was taken). So what does it have to offer. Let’s take a look shall we?

Searching For Records

Contained within the 1940 census records are ten fields of information that we can use to discover our family history. These ten I will discuss below.


The first field of information looks at where our ancestors lived at the time of the 1940 census records. The street, avenue, road, etc of where they lived is recorded as well as the house number as well.

Household Data

Then we find out more information about where our ancestors lived. Information such as whether they owned or rented the house, the value of the home, and also whether they live on a farm.


The most important piece of information is the name of the occupant of the house. This is the primary piece of data that we can use to identify our ancestor. Not only that but every other inhabitant of the household is also listed as well.


Following on from this we can see the relationship between the head of the house and the rest of the other people listed.

Personal Description

Even more personal information is available to us in this latest census record. Firstly, we can identify the gender our ancestor, but also their color or race, their current age, and their marital status.

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Then we can learn about their education. The two questions under this field asks whether the person questioned is still in school and also what their highest grade of school that they have completed.

Place of Birth

Another key question in identifying whether the record contains our ancestor asks where our ancestor was born. It asks what state or territory were they born in if they were born in the United States. If they were born abroad then they are asked for the name of the country.


The next key field asks the citizenship of any of the foreign born inhabitants of the house.


Next there are questions as to where the person lived on April 1st 1935. It asks what city, town or village, followed by the county, and state or territory. And then finally the last question under this field asks whether they live on a farm.

House and Land


The last field on the 1940 census record is quite involved as it asks many questions about the inhabitants employment. This question was posed to anyone who was aged over 14 years. You can learn so much about your ancestor from these questions.

Questions posed ask whether the person was working privately or in non-emergency government work. Also, whether the person was seeking work, did they have a business, and location of work, i.e. home, school, unable to work, or other.

Then comes key questions that may help you to identify your ancestor or give you interesting information about them that you did not know. The questions ask the person to list their occupation title, what industry or business they are in and what class of worker they are.

The final questions in this field asks how many weeks they were employed in 1939. The importance of this question is to find out whether they were employed in full-time work. The following two questions ask how much they earned and whether they received an income other than work.

Additional Questions Added to the 1940 Census Records

Thanks to Family History Daily I became aware that there were additional questions asked from 5% of individuals listed on the census. The reason for this was to gain more of an insight into the American population.

Family History Daily shows that if “Suppl. Quest” appears next to your ancestor then they were obviously asked supplementary questions. To find the answers to these questions you must then look at the base of the page and see where your ancestor was listed.

Supplementary questions start off with asking the individual’s name, the birthplace of their mother and father, and their mother tongue.

For veteran’s, wife’s or children of a veteran

From this line of questioning you can find out which war your ancestor fought in. The answers were abbreviated:

  • W – World War I,
  • S – Spanish-American War, the Phillipine insurrection, or Boxer Rebellion,
  • SW – both the Spanish-American War and World War I,
  • R – peacetime service only, or
  • Ot – any other war or expedition.

Social Security (persons over 14 years of age)

Individuals were queried whether they had a federal Social Security number, where deductions were taken away from this person’s wage in 1939 for Old-Age Insurane or railroad retirement. And if this was the case what wa she the level of the deduction.

Further queries asked what the person’s usual occupation and industry, and what was the class of this person.

Married women or women who have been married

Any women who filled these requirements were asked a further three questions. The government wanted to know whether the lady in question had married more than once; what their age was at first marriage; and number of children ever born to the lady.

Where Can I Find The 1940 Census Records?

There are three options that are available to you to find the 1940 census records. There is one free option and two that you will need to pay for. What I do stress though is to try searching for your ancestors before you go spending your money. You don’t want to be wasting both your time and money on something that you could’ve got for free.

Where can I find the 1940 census records

Your FREE options!

Your first choice to go to is FamilySearch. This genealogy search website contains more than 3 billion names and millions of records.

Despite it being a free option for genealogists you may not be able to find your ancestors within their databases. It is therefore necessary to look at the paid options if this is the case.

Genealogy after all is like any other hobby and you will have to spend a little money at some point. If you are serious about discovering your family history then it will be worth doing so as you will be doing your ancestry justice.

The National Archives does offer the 1940 census records for free on their website.  To find your ancestor though you will need to search for them by location.

Your PAID options!

When it comes to paying to access the 1940 census records then go no further than either Ancestry and Find My Past. You are probably aware of both of these sites. And rightly so!

Credit: Ancestry

They contain millions of records like FamilySearch but there will be more chance of you finding your ancestors on these sites. If however you cannot find your ancestor on one of these sites then it is worth checking if you can find them on the other.

I have tried this tip many times and have succeeded in doing so when I though that there was little chance in finding them.

Tip: Actually FindMyPast does offer you the chance to search for the 1940 census records for free! But you will need to pay if you intend to search other census years.

Final Thoughts

There are clues in these records that can help you to identify your ancestor. And once you have found your ancestor in the 1940 census records you can then enter their details into your software program, such as their name, date of birth, place of birth, etc.

You can learn a lot about your ancestor as I have pointed out in this post. One way that can help you get the most from the answers that were given is to write your family history.

I have done this and I can certainly say that it has helped me make sense of all the information that was in front of me. Once I had written about the details that I had discovered about my ancestor I started to look a little deeper.

I asked questions such as “Why did they not own the property that they were living?” or “Why did they only work for 20 weeks in 1939?“.

We can all put down in words what we have found out about our ancestors from these records. But to really know our ancestors we need to ask questions such as these.

Only then can we tell their story. And in doing so do we feel closer to them. I know that I have gained a greater appreciation for their lives and what they had to go through.

And most important if it weren’t for them, (and also the encounters with their partners), then there would be no us. It’s worth thinking about isn’t it?

Thank You and Please Leave A Comment

I hope you enjoyed this post explaining what you can learn from the 1940 census records. If you think that this post will be helpful to others then please share it with friends and family using the social media buttons below.

If you have any questions or comments then please leave a comment below. I would love to hear from you.

Author: Owain

Hello, Owain here. After researching my family history for a number of years I wanted to give back to the genealogy world. So here you will find guides, tips and product reviews that will help you on your genealogy journey.

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