8 Often Overlooked Items in the 1940 US Census

records Aug 07, 2020

Eight years ago, when the 1940 US census was released to the public, genealogists dove right in to find their relatives. For some, it was finding their parents enumerated for the first time! For others, it might have been finding themselves enumerated for the first time! Whatever the case, it was an exciting time.

But…in our haste, we may not have read all of the wonderful details or may have missed some of the data that was collected for the first time in this census. That said, the anomalies with this particular census are probably what trip us up the most. So here’s a rundown of the things you might have overlooked in the 1940 US census.

1. Informant: This is the first time the informant was noted on a US census form. It is denoted with a circle around an x. It’s great to have this bit of information for weighing the evidence during analysis.

2. Place of parents’ births: Since the 1880 census, this data was collected for all persons enumerated. But in 1940, this information was only collected for two people per sheet. At the bottom of each sheet is supplemental information, which does indeed contain the birth places for each parent for those two special people.

3. Language: Also part of the supplemental questions, column 33 notes the language spoken in home in earliest childhood.

4. Veteran: Also part of the supplemental questions, columns 39-41 note whether the person is a veteran of the US military (or the wife, widow, or child under 18 of a veteran); and if a child, then whether the veteran is deceased; and the veteran’s service (see the “Symbols and Explanatory Notes” section at the very bottom of each census sheet to learn what each code means).

5. Questions specific to females: For females 14 years old or older, columns 48-50 note whether they have been married more than once, the age at first marriage, and number of children born (excluding stillbirths).

6. Education: While the “attended school within the year” question had been asked on previous censuses, the 1940 census also asks for the highest grade of school completed (see the “Symbols and Explanatory Notes” section at the very bottom of each census sheet to learn what each code means).

7. Residence in 1935: Columns 17–19 note where each individual lived as of April 1, 1935. “Same house” means the person resided in the same home, while “same place” means that they lived in the same city/town but in a different home. If neither of those applied, then the city/town/village (or “R” for rural), county, and state (or territory or country) was provided.

8. Employment data: Columns 21–33 provide all sorts of information related to the employment of the individual. This includes things such as whether they had worked for the government, including those that engaged with the Works Progress Administration or the Civilian Conservation Corps; whether seeking work; the number of hours worked the week before the census; number of weeks worked in 1939; income for 1939, and class of worker (see the “Symbols and Explanatory Notes” section at the very bottom of each census sheet to learn what each code means).

 Remember, it is important to READ everything you find in a census record (well, any record, really). This includes not only the information provided but also the column headings and the instructions so you understand what was supposed to be collected and how it was to be recorded.

 Click here for the instructions for the 1940 US census.

 Click here for a blank copy of the 1940 US census form (opens a PDF).

Pick a 1940 census for one of your ancestors. Using the information provided in this post, carefully examine all of the data for each member of the household. Is there anything you missed the first time around? Did you discover a new clue? Are there any conflicts with other data you’ve collected? Be sure to record all of the information you’ve uncovered and any notes or follow-up research ideas you might now have.

I’d love to hear about your discoveries!! Join the discussion of this post on Facebook! I will be doing this activity right along with you, and will post my findings there too.


© Julie Tarr. This article was first published at Genealogy In Action; appearance of this article elsewhere, without my permission, violates copyright.

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