No name index for the 1940 census everybody has been waiting for.

What kind of games is our government playing? They force everybody to wait 72 years for this thing and there’s no name index? :dubious:

What the hell have they been doing all this time? They knew this release date was scheduled. They probably started scanning these paper records 5 to 10 years ago.

I was the dept coordinator that worked with a contract company that scanned our permanent personnel records. 37 tall file cabinets worth of paper. You identify the keys you want indexed on the forms they scan. Typically, Name and SSN are the keys you’d select. Our project took almost a year and half to get everything scanned and the paper destroyed…

Whoever designed the plan to scan these documents did a piss poor job imho. I have trouble believing they couldn’t create keys to these documents.

I think I’ll go in to full Conspiracy Theory mode and wonder what they’re trying to hide…

My conspiracy theory would be that whoever got the contract to digitize the documents knew full well that the contract didn’t specify the most logical search criteria, hoping they’d get an additional contract to fix it.

Of course, I can’t totally discount stupidity, either.

What I’m saying is this is incredibly bad data processing in my professional opinion. There are big companies that digitize paper records. My employer used a well known one in the industry.

With handwritten records the keys would have to be typed in as the documents are scanned. A time consuming process. That’s why you can’t go crazy with a dozen different keys. No one will waste the time creating keys for a database of all blue-eyed Americans. Name and a address code are the obvious keys for census records. Zip didn’t exist in 1940. So creating a address code key would be a big PITA. I would “TRY” to map the old addresses to modern zip codes, but I’d have to look at the source documents to see if its possible.

Renders it pretty much useless. That’s why sites like Ancestry have subscribers. I couldn’t even get the “start search” button to work. :rolleyes:

They don’t owe you a name index. Volunteers at LDS are doing the indexing for the general public. Ancestry is doing the index for their service.

Ancestry is offering free access for the next week or so to city directories for that time frame. When you have the address, you can search the government site by address or ED.

The National Archives are adding additional servers to handle the overload. The site traffic is insane. I don’t know a single person who has managed to get a page to load yet.

Really? Because I’m pretty sure that this service is paid for by tax dollars, and we’re not getting our money’s worth, IMO. I refuse to believe that this information wasn’t entered into a searchable database.

Yes, really. I’m one of the thousands of indexing volunteers.

Seriously, do you think all the previous censuses were indexed free for you by the government? They don’t owe you a name index; they just owe you the Census. In fact, they certainly don’t owe it to you online and we’re pretty damned spoiled to get used to having it that way. Name indexing happens later. Your library, by the way, may already be buying Ancestry for you; when the name index comes out, you can use it there for free.

Or you can go back to requesting it via microfilm like in the good old days.

Are there any estimations of when the name indexes will be ready? Will they all require paid web site access to a genealogy site?

And my counter-theory :slight_smile: is that the contractor probably pointed out this glaring issue to the government four or five dozen times only to be told:

“No, that would violate some gov’t information privacy rule no one knows about or can explain, that we, the gov’t contracting personnel, just made up on the spot. This is because we don’t want any current or future privacy law we don’t know about to come back and bite us on the career-ass… so it’s far better to leave easily sortable info out. However we will be sure to blame you when the time comes.”

Because believe me, that is a far more probable explanation.


It actually seems like a good strategy, in some ways. There have already been reports of their servers being swamped, etc. If they had it name indexed, it would be worse, because a whole bunch of more casual researchers would be hammering it. Plus, if they didn’t put it in the requirements, they didn’t pay for it, either, presumably. They can just let Ancestry and the like offer that; the Govt. satisfied the requirement of publishing the data.

There exists a master database used by the USPS and mailing services that stores each and every valid address. This could be used to map old records, and the only items that could not be handled would be newer streets, communities and numbers since 1940.

Because it takes a hell of a lot of time and effort to index 132 million names. OCR doesn’t work because everything is handwritten, which also slows down any manual indexing.

If you think the records should be indexed, you can join and help index them yourself (I’ve already indexed one page today* and will be doing more). An added advantage is that if you’re indexing, you have special access to their records, which include a indexed versions of censuses from earlier years (they finished 1930 a few months ago).

*Wish I had kept track of time, but it was probably about ten minutes to enter 40 records (I was interrupted). It helped that the handwriting was legible and the names were not too uncommon. It can take far longer indexing other censuses.

Well, fuck it then; I’ll just wait for Ancestry to get it done and rejoin. Basically, unless you already know all the details of where somebody lived, the government site is pointless and useless, much like the government itself.

I do wish had made that more clear.
I have a very low level interest. I signed up because I had a coupon for a short term membership - and I will be off the site as soon as my coupon runs out.
Based on the countdown clocks and emails, I had assumed that when they released the data, it would be in the same state as all of the other data on the site, not that it would still need to be indexed. I was kind of surprised when I typed in a name of a relative who would be likely to have been caught by the census and got nothing back. Are there any estimates as to how long it will take before I can simply type in a name and get a list of likely hits?

Note that is the free version of That’s how will get it indexed.

But look at the numbers. If everyone can do four entries a minute (and that’s a rather fast pace to index: it’s more than just entering first and last name*), that means in an 8-hour day you can enter 1920 entries (assuming no breaks). That would take one person 68,780 days to enter the information. Assuming you could get 100 people to work on it, it cuts the time frame to almost two years. OTOH, no one is able to enter at that pace day in and day out.

With a thousand workers, things can theoretically be finished in 68 days – though it would be longer in real life.

*You need to enter most of the data from a record, including sex, race, relationship, birthplace, etc. in order to give searchers enough data to find a particular person. There may be thousands of people with many names and you have to narrow it down by state and location to give anyone a chance to find a particular one.

Ancestry and Family Search are two different beasts. Ancestry is a company and Family Search is the LDS. They have a lot of the same things, but they are not the same.

I don’t know why people think the census would have an index, that was not the point of the census, it was to count the number of people in the US and that’s it. The government never created an index, those were always outside companies, go to a library with a genealogical section and you can find the old indexes and they’re still a pain to go through.

What I do wish is that Ancestry had said that they were going to be scanning the images starting yesterday. They implied that they would have everything scanned by yesterday morning. I’m probably going to have to wait until the last day as I’m sure Maryland will not be scanned until then.

I have ancestry and I didn’t think that they implied they would have it all scanned in any near time frame. I expect weeks to months.

I’ve often heard the Government uses Census data for all types of planning. Funds are given to Cities and States based on the Census. I think Federal road funds are allocated based on the Census. Isn’t the Electoral College based on the Census? As populations shift from state to state the amount of Electoral Delegate shifts too.

Given its importance you’d think the Census was more than 200 boxes of useless paper. I would have expected a paper index for the 1940 index. Plus all kinds of population studies that could be analyzed & used for planning. All that was probably created not long after the census was taken.