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1940 U.S. Census Overview

The 1940 U.S. Census form included new questions which provide deeper insights into the cultural and economic events redefining of your ancestor’s lives. The 1940 Census was particularly interested in understanding migration of Americans population by specifically noting people’s addresses in the 1935 and 1940 national census data.

In addition, census takers asked about involvement in FDR’s public works and education. The additional data recorded in the 1940 census records further helps trace specific individuals and better understand how the events of the 1930s that shaped your family tree and your ancestors' stories.

1940 Census Facts

  • Population: 131,669,275 - a 7.2% increase from the 1930 Census
  • Census Date: April 1940
  • Census Date Released: April 2012
  • Number of States Participating: 48 (Alaska & Hawaii not yet U.S. states)
  • US Territories Participating: Alaska, American Samoa, Guam, Hawaii, Panama Canal, Puerto Rico, and the American Virgin Islands.
  • Data Lost: None

1940 Census Questions Asked

  • Names - of each person living in the house as of April 1, 1940.
  • Location
  • Household Data - Number of people and if the house is rented, owned or a farm.
  • Relation - of the responder to the head of the household
  • Personal Description - Sex, race, age at last birthday, marital status
  • Education
  • Place of Birth - noted both US & foreign locations - Distinguished Canada-French vs. Canada-English and Irish Free State (Eire) vs. Northern Ireland.
  • Citizenship - Citizenship (if not US)
  • Residence, April 1, 1935
  • Employment Status
  • Occupation, Industry, & Class of Worker
  • Income in 1939
Supplemental Questions:
  • Place of Birth of Father & Mother
  • Mother Tongue (or Native Language)
  • Veterans & War/Military Service
  • Social Security
  • Usual Occupation, Industry, and Class of Worker:
  • Married Women

By the time of the 1940 Census was conducted, the U.S. was finally out of the Great Depression, however, the world was on the brink of World War II. The events during 1930-1940 had a significant impact on the daily lives of our ancestors. Learn how their lives changed between 1930 to 1940 and how these events shaped your family history.

Combine the 1940 census information and our vast collection of U.S. newspaper articles to learn more about your ancestors. Start by searching a name and uncover interesting information and facts about your family history today!

Notable Events Between 1930-1940:

Political Events - The Great Depression
  • After the Stock Market crash of 1929, the U.S. plummeted into the Great Depression and remained so for 10 years, from 1929-1939.
  • The first African American federal judge, William Henry Hastie, is appointed in 1937.
  • On November 8, 1932, President Franklin D. Roosevelt is elected President. His policies brought the U.S. out of the Great Depression.
Sports & Pop-Culture
  • In 1931, the Empire State Building opens for business
  • The Golden Gate Bridge opened in 1937.
  • Babe Ruth retired in 1935 and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1939
  • New York World’s Fair and the San Francisco Golden Gate International Exposition took place in 1939, signaling the end of the Great Depression and the belief in an optimistic future.

Note on the National Archives and Records Administration

Although the National Archives and Records Administration digitalizes the census records and census population estimates with their partners, their historical records are not readily available on the government census website. Genealogybank's vast library of newspaper archives and census records provides an easy way for those interested in their own genealogy to find their ancestors.

About the 1940 US federal census

The 1940 census was taken in April 1940 (the official date was April 1, though entries were recorded throughout early April). The National Archives released the 1940 census to the public on April 2, 2012 after a mandatory 72-year waiting period. Franklin D. Roosevelt was the President during the 1940 census. Forty eight states participated in this census, along with territories.

The Census Bureau, interested in internal migration, asked everyone where they lived on April 1, 1935. The US census of 1940 also asked if people were living at the same address in 1940 as they had been on April 1, 1935. There were 13 questions about the employment status of people 14 years old and older. Included were new questions about the amount of money, wages, or salary received (including commissions) and whether the person received income of $50 or more from sources other than money wages or salary.

The 1940 US census asked if anyone in the household during the week of March 24 to 30, 1940, was at work on, or assigned to, public emergency work projects conducted by the Works Progress Administration (WPA), the National Youth Administration (NYA), the New Deal Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), or state or local work relief agencies. At the bottom of each schedule, a supplementary census asked additional questions of two people enumerated on preselected lines on the form.

The question of the parents' birthplace was moved to the supplemental schedule in the 1940 federal census. Veterans were asked if they served in the World War, the Spanish-American War, the Philippine Insurrection, or the Boxer Rebellion, and if so, in a Regular Establishment (Army, Navy, or Marine Corps), peacetime service only, or another war or expedition. The supplemental schedule also asked about participation in two national insurance plans: Social Security and Railroad Retirement.

What can we learn from a 1940 census search?

Census records are the only records that describe the entire population of the United States on a particular day. The 1940 census is no different. The answers explain in detail what the United States looked like on April 1, 1940, and what issues were most relevant to Americans after a decade of economic depression.

The US census records for 1940 reflect the economic tumult of the Great Depression and President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal recovery program of the 1930s. Besides name, age, relationship, and occupation, the 1940 census included questions about internal migration; employment status; participation in the CCC, WPA, and NYA programs; and years of education.

Some questions asked in earlier years were moved to the supplemental census. Unlike more recent censuses, the census of 1940 was taken entirely by census enumerators going door to door and collecting information. If a person wasn't home when the census taker came, the census taker would make a return visit. 1940 census search by name shows there were separate pages for people living in a hotel tourist home, or trailer camp. These people were to be counted on April 8th and 9th.

The 1940 United States federal census included territorial censuses for Alaska, American Samoa, Guam, Hawaii, Panama Canal, Puerto Rico, and the American Virgin Islands.

Why are census records important?

Census data are taken by governments to establish the numbers and characteristics of a population. Census records allow you to trace your ancestors through each generation of a family tree. You may be able to follow where a relative lived through each decade, or discover when they moved house or started a new job, and how their family evolved through births, deaths, and marriages. Also, your ancestors’ households will often reveal the names of their siblings, which would be difficult to trace using the birth indexes alone.

Data from the census informs a wide range of government, business, and non-profit decision-making. Governments and non-profit organizations rely on decennial census data to determine the need for new roads, hospitals, schools, and other public sector investments. US census records are also vital to businesses as a key source of information about the population’s changing needs. Plus, the census results also inform how hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funding are allocated to several different programs.

What can 1940 census records be used for?

During World War II, the Census Bureau responded to several information requests from US government agencies, including the US Army and the US Secret Service, to facilitate the internment of Japanese Americans. In his report of the operation, U.S. Army Lt. Gen. John L. DeWitt wrote that the most important single source of information prior to the evacuation was the 1940 census records of population.

Every ten years since 1790, the federal census has provided a snapshot of the American public. The census record for 1940 detailed that critical period in American history as the country was still recovering from the Great Depression and before its entry into World War II. These records will prove to be invaluable to genealogists, historians, demographers, and others for years to come.