JOPLIN, Mo. —
A few months ago, the genealogy world was thrilled when images of the 1940 census records were released to the public by the National Archives.
The problem was that no index existed at that time. A search for ancestors and relatives in that census could be time consuming and not very fruitful, unless one already knew the state, county and township where they lived.
Several companies and genealogy societies have since joined forces with thousands of volunteers to transcribe those census records and develop a searchable index. Because of their efforts, all of the 1940 census records for the 50 states have now been transcribed and indexed. Those records include 130 million entries.
The website that I use to check the 1940 census is www.familysearch.org/ 1940census.
When the site opens, the screen displays a form that can be used to do free searches of the census. The form has a place to enter the first and last name, the state where the person lived, the county where the person lived and other information. After the data is entered, the site provides the transcribed information from that person's census entry.
Thankfully, the site also allows one to see the image of the original census page to confirm the information. Transcriptionists sometimes make mistakes, and those who transcribed the 1940 census records have made a few.
When I checked a family entry in one Missouri county, I discovered that the transcriptionist had transcribed Octavia as Activia, listed a daughter as Betty Lew instead of Betty Lou, and listed a son as Marva instead of Marvin.
Researchers need to keep an open mind when checking the index that has been developed from transcribed records. Think of all the ways that a name could be written and check all those possibilities.
My favorite approach to checking the 1940 census is to only enter the state, county and the family surname on the form. This approach provides a list of all people with that last name who lived in a county.
One can then check the transcribed information on each person, as well as look at the image of that census page.
While checking a census image, always scroll up and down the page to look for related families who lived nearby.
After checking the people who have a surname in a particular county, check the records for that surname in all the adjacent counties, too.
Suggestions or queries? Write to Frankie Meyer, 509 N. Center St., Plainfield, IN 46168, or email frankie firstname.lastname@example.org.