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How to Make the Most of Census Data

A valuable resource awaits family historians

It’s a big deal when personal details from a U.S. census are released, 72 years later, to the public. Family history buffs and historians get their first access to information about every American citizen at a moment in time — details that, by federal law, were until then restricted. But April’s release of the 1940 census has aroused special interest.

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Besides name, age, gender, race, occupation, relationship to householder and place of birth, the 1940 census includes income and level of education. And, for the first time, logs painstakingly handwritten by census workers who trudged door to door were digitally scanned and are now on the National Archives website.

Various projects under way — the 1940 U.S. Census Community Project, the USGenWeb Project and Ancestry.com — aim to make these records searchable by name and street address. For now, however, to browse for a specific record it’s helpful to know a person’s address to determine the appropriate census enumeration district — one of 147,000 geographic areas that carve up the U.S. map.

And, as always, if you don’t have access to a birth certificate, you — or an heir or legal representative — can order an official transcript of your own Census data to help you qualify for Social Security and other retirement benefits, obtain a passport, settle estates and in other situations. The cost is $65 per record. If you have questions, call the National Processing Center at 812-218-3046 or send a fax to 812-218-3371.

You may also like: How to obtain vital records.

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