1940 Census: Life in America at a Turning Point


1940 census family line video chicagoHave you ever wondered where your grandparents lived in 1940? What the their income was at the time? Or what portion went to rent?

You can find out more about your grandparents’ lives by checking out the 1940 Census at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).

Since public records are a great resource when figuring out the facts of your grandparents’ life, you might find this information helpful.

Accessing the 1940 Census Online

Typically, private companies like Ancestry.com take over digitally transcribing census records so you can search them online, but for the 1940 census, the National Archives has done this for you. That means that you won’t need a subscription to a genealogy research service in order to view the information contained in these records.

Using the 1940 Census to Find Your Grandparents

However, using the census may still be a little challenging. The information contained in the records has been sorted by the “enumeration district,” or the portion of a city or town where your grandparents lived. You need to know this enumeration district in order to access the personal information.

It’s easier than you might think to find out your grandparents’ enumeration district. Just follow these steps:

1. Go to the National Archives Website

2. In the box labeled “Search Online Public Access,” type in “1940 enumeration district description for [enter county].”

3. Find your grandparents’ district by using their address.

What You’ll Find in the 1940 Census

The 1940 census contained a great deal of information about American families during this period of time. You can expect to find the following data in these records:

  • Name of head of household and all household members
  • Age, race, marital status, and gender of all household members
  • Level of education for each member of the household
  • Place of birth for each person
  • Relationship of each person to the head of household
  • A mark designating the person who provided this information
  • Income for the previous 12 months
  • Address of the home
  • Whether the home was owned or rented and the value of the home or monthly cost of rent

Making the Data Personal

As the census was taken in 1940, it provides a snapshot of what life was like during the years of the Great Depression. America was just recovering from this period of historic economic downturn, and we were about to enter into the Second World War.

Although it offers many details about daily life in 1940, the census can’t provide the stories and memories that make this iconic period come alive for current generations. This census data, however, can serve as inspiration for our grandparents and older relatives to talk about their life stories with the younger generations. While knowing where your grandparents were living in 1940 can be illuminating, it’s knowing their life story that will really make that information shine.


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