You can find an awful lot of information from census records. 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, if you are interested to learn more about these records and how they can help you build your family tree then please read on.
Discussed in this post:
- What’s In These Records?
- Additional Questions Added To The 1940 Census Records
- Where Can I Find These Records?
- My Final Thoughts!
What’s In These Records?
The most recent census records from 1940 offer 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?
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.
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 ancestors.
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.
Even more personal information is available to us in this latest census record.
Firstly, we can identify the gender of our ancestors, but also their color or race, their current age, and their marital status.
Then we can learn about their education. The two questions under this field ask 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.
The last field on the 1940 census record is quite involved as it asks many questions about the inhabitant’s 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 ask 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 any 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 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 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 Philippine 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 Insurance or railroad retirement.
And if this was the case what was 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 the number of children born to the lady.
Where Can I Find These Records?
Three options 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.
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!
Why paid over free!
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 thought that there was little chance of finding them.
* Owain’s Tip *
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.
My 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?”
“Why did they only work for 20 weeks in 1939?“.
Write your family story!
We can all put down in words what we have found out about our ancestors from these records. But to 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?
After reading this helpful guide you may want to check out further information regarding US Census Records.
Why not head on over to the United States Census Bureau for help with your genealogy research.
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 have any questions or comments then please leave a comment below.
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