American history, as seen through the 1940 census - ABC 12 – WJRT – Flint, MI

American history, as seen through the 1940 census

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WASHINGTON, D.C. (WJRT) -

(07/04/12) - On this Fourth of July, we celebrate the Founding Fathers, and the role they had in shaping our country. One of their wishes was that their descendants record a census every 10 years.

The National Archives in Washington is home to our nation's most treasured documents.  Among them, the Constitution. And in Article I, Section 2, the writers call for "an enumeration" – a census – every 10 years "in such manner as they shall by law direct."

So it's fitting that the Archives also possesses the census documents – called schedules.

"So from 1790, continuously, regardless of what's going on, we've taken the census every 10 years," explained National Archives research archivist Connie Potter. "The policy has been since 1952 to release them every 72 years."

That's why the 1940 Census was just released to the public, and for the first time, it's available online -- for free!

All you have to do is go to www.archives.gov and click on the 1940 Census icon. The Archives did not index by name, but they did by state, county, town, and enumeration district.

"An enumeration district is that area that a census taker could cover in two weeks in the city or a month in the country," explained Potter.

So the more information you have, the easier it is to find what you're looking for.

Like previous censuses, it asked where everyone was born and what their occupation was, but Potter says there were some new questions in the 1940 edition that were important, like  "Where did you live on April 1, 1935?" and "How much did you make in wages or salary?"

"This is the 1940 Census, so it reflects the Great Depression and New Deal programs," explained Potter.

The 1940 Census lets us take a closer look into the lives of those who sacrificed so much during one of nation's most trying eras, but then became the Greatest Generation.

Third-party web sites like www.ancestry.com are working on indexing the Census, so that it's searchable by name. However, Michigan isn't finished just yet.

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