U.S. census bridges pre-war 1940 with the present

Tue May 22, 2012 12:34pm EDT
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By Patricia Reaney

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Actress Ginger Rogers won an Oscar, McDonald's opened its first restaurant, there were only 48 U.S. states, and the average annual salary was $1,299.

The year was 1940. Actor Al Pacino was an infant. James and Mary were the most popular baby names and the 132 million people living in the United States took part in a national census that was released last month by the National Archives and Record Administration (NARA) after a 72-year embargo required by law.

Unlike earlier censuses, which were released on microfilm, the 1940 census data is available online.

Genealogists and historians say it contains a treasure trove of information about people who survived the Great Depression and provides a form of time travel for anyone looking for information about lost relatives or friends.

To help them uncover the stories hidden in the data an army of more than 100,000 online volunteers across the U.S. working for the 1940 U.S. Census Community Project (the1940census.com/dashboard), a collaborative effort between NARA, FamilySearch.org, Archives.com, findmypast.com and ProQuest, is transcribing the census information into a searchable index.

When they are done, hopefully by the end of the year, anyone can search the 1940 census index online by name for free to discover stories they didn't know existed.

For Donna Hawkins, a 64-year-old retired state worker, grandmother and volunteer from New Oxford, Pa., being an indexer and arbitrator on the project is her way of learning about her ancestors.

"This is a way to give back because I wouldn't have found members of my family if someone wasn't indexing," she said in an interview.   Continued...