It’s Here! The 1940 Census

In April of 1940, there were just over 132 million Americans. Today, after the obligatory 72 year wait to protect the privacy of the living, the National Archives and Records Administration will open the records that documented the basic details of those people’s lives: the 1940 Census. Listen to the NPR program 1940 Census Release Is ‘Super Bowl for Genealogists.’

I’m looking forward to catching up with my family members in 1940. Here’s where I left them in the 1930 census.

The Bowman family in 1930.

Family history facts come from various places: death certificates, family legend, and so forth. But the census often reveals incredible facts you wouldn’t otherwise know, those facets that descendants forget. Here, I see that my great-grandparents lived near the Aberdeen Churchville and Bush Chapel Roads. They married when she was 23 and when he was 29.

So what will 1940 reveal? I know my great-grandfather succumbed to colon cancer in 1934, but how would the impact of his death on the family be reflected in the census? The 1940 census captures America after it has sustained years of depression. How were my grandfather, great uncle, and great aunt employed? An added perk to the 1940 census is that census takers inquired where people were living in 1935, sort of a semi-census, if you will. They are just one of the families I’ll be looking for tomorrow evening. Try it yourself here, the NARA website for the 1940 Census, at the New York Public Library, or at You can even watch the official ceremony opening the documents from 8:30am.

There is plenty of time to get acquainted with the 1940 census. We’ll have another ten year wait for the release of the 1950 census, brimming with baby boomers.

The Bowman family c. 1936.


About Becky Fifield

Becky Fifield is a cultural heritage professional with 25 years experience in institutions large and small. She is currently Head of Collection Management for the Special Collections of the New York Public Library. An advocate for preventive conservation, Ms. Fifield is a Professional Associate of the American Institute for Conservation, Chair of the AIC Collection Care Network, and former Chair of Alliance for Response NYC. She is also a scholar of 18th century female unfree labor and dress. There's a bit of pun in the title The Still Room, delineating a quiet space brimming with the ingredients of memory, where consideration, analysis, and wordcraft can take place. Ms. Fifield’s interests include museum practice, dress history, historic preservation, transit, social and women’s history, food, current events, geneaology, roadtrips, and considerations on general sense of place. Becky and her husband, Dr. V, live in the Hudson Valley.