Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat! Please put a penny in the old man’s hat. If you haven’t got a penny, a ha’penny will do. If you haven’t got a ha’penny, then God Bless You!

As a genealogist, I feel like singing Christmas carols in April 2012! And especially this one for the images it brings to mind of the differences that the passage that one decade can make for genealogy and family history research. Why? Think about the 10 years between 1930 and 1940 and let me explain.

Every 10 Years an Extra Christmas in April

Every ten years at the end of a 72 year-long waiting period, genealogists and family historians are treated to an extra Christmas gift in April with the public release of a US Federal Census. Constitutionally-mandated for every decade since 1790, each enumeration provides a snapshot in time of the peoples of America, both in numbers and in other statistical data to assist the government in meeting their needs. Through comparative studies conducted at the time and in the ensuing decades, planners use the census information to determine the changes, needs and trends in the American population since the last census taking. When these special records become publicly available every 10 years, they contribute their unique details to the American historical outline of family and ancestries from present times back to 1790, as they provide genealogists and historians with information identifying families and the names of family members, their ages, sex, marital status, occupations, birthplaces, and other useful information. What a gift and boon this is for genealogy and family history work.

On April 2, 2012, Americans will wake up to find their new census present under the tree, the United States Federal Census of 1940, taken nearly 4 score years ago as America was leaving behind the Great Depression. With this public release of the 16th Census recorded since the founding of America, will come pertinent information about 132,000,000 Americans, their families, and a statistical summary of the decade of social history that occurred since the 1930 Census, at the beginning of that great hardship; much more than merely a listing of names and dates will become available about previous generations of ancestors. We will find clues about births and deaths and migration and displacement of Americans as well as immigrants and refugees coming to the United States from all parts of the World. By careful study, the individual stories of American Ancestors, the People of History in all their diversity, racial and ethnic cultures, and religious entities will be revealed in this statistical recording of that pivotal decade.

The 1940 Census is of great importance to Genealogists  

The 1940 Census is of great importance to genealogists because it opens up many new avenues of tracing and locating families who had been fractured because of the economic upheaval of the Great Depression and the Recovery. Commercial travel by airplanes, trains, buses, and automobiles had grown and developed during the 1930’s, creating a widespread shifting and re-settlement throughout America and the world. Even though there are few records available for these modes of transportation, the 1940 Census reveals the groups of people who worked at airports, train stations and bus stations, as attendants of the businesses, or as pilots, drivers and engineers. While people were still principally moving from east to west, the options for migrating anywhere became more and more prevalent. As men migrated around the country looking for work they often settled in unexpected places where work was found, not necessarily close to other family members. There were also an unusually high number of people who ended up in prison during this time period (free room and board wherever they could get it). Even desperate good men could be found in such institutions. When doing genealogy research as we follow families around the country in this changing era of research, this mobility will makes us dependent on the 1940 Census and indexes, which will provide researchers with wonderful tools for discovering descendants as well as locating ancestral origins.

It’s Free!

And a big bonus with this 1940 Census gift is that it is the first such enumeration that will be free to the public from the onset of its release. Heretofore, past census records have been made available as a publication of the National Archives on a roll by roll (microfilm) basis. Indexes to these records had to be undertaken and paid for by private on-line companies, and these costs were then passed on through fees and subscriptions to the public.

Using the modern technology of the Internet Age, the 1940 Census will be released digitally by the federal government requiring no cost for creating or publishing the record. But, the index is yet to be made. Once the census records are released on April 2, 2012, a massive public indexing program will commence through the collaboration between various web entities such,, the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS), The Association of Professional Genealogists,, and other such groups. A network of over 100,000 plus volunteers is being gathered to assist in indexing this U.S. Census to make it available by the end of 2012. An invitation has been made to all who would like to support and participate in this historical indexing effort. Thus the 1940 United States Census Indexing Program will be a great opportunity for men and women, young and old, to serve one another and make this valuable census readily accessible for tracing genealogy and family history.

Invitation to Meridian Readers to Index the 1940 US Census

Meridian Readers we invite you join these wonderful volunteers and help make this important record available by Christmas 2012. You can contact to receive free software and instructions to index in the comfort and privacy of your own home. Come… and you can add your name to the gift under the tree… “To America, With Love & Merry Christmas.”


James W. Petty, AG, CG is the Board-Certified and Accredited Professional Genealogist, “Climbing the Family Tree Professionally Since 1969”. He is President of HEIRLINES Family History & Genealogy, Inc. (, the “Salt Lake City, Utah BBB Accredited Business” trusted professional genealogy research services firm, providing US and International genealogical and historical research for a world-wide clientele.

For Heirlines-Quality professional genealogy services, resources, and products including free genealogy, LDS Family History advice and expert answers to commonly asked ancestry questions, visit Jim’s website for free consultations and ordering custom family tree research services, and his genealogy blog