1940 cen­sus to pro­vide a De­pres­sion snap­shot

The Washington Times Daily - - Nation - BY CRIS­TIAN SALAZAR AND RANDY HER­SCHAFT

NEW YORK | It was a decade when tens of mil­lions of peo­ple in the U.S. ex­pe­ri­enced mass un­em­ploy­ment and so­cial up­heaval as the na­tion clawed its way out of the Great De­pres­sion and rum­blings of global war were heard from abroad.

Now, in­ti­mate de­tails of 132 mil­lion peo­ple who lived through the 1930s will be dis­closed as the U.S. gov­ern­ment re­leases the 1940 cen­sus on April 2 to the public for the first time af­ter 72 years of privacy pro­tec­tion lapses.

Ac­cess to the records will be free and open to any­one on the In­ter­net — but they will not be im­me­di­ately name search­able.

For ge­neal­o­gists and fam­ily his­to­ri­ans, the 1940 cen­sus re­lease is the most im­por­tant dis­clo­sure of an­ces­tral se­crets in a decade and could shake the branches of many fam­ily trees. Schol­ars ex­pect the records to help draw a more pointil­lis­tic por­trait of a trans­for­ma­tive decade in Amer­i­can life.

Henry Louis Gates Jr., a Har­vard Univer­sity pro­fes­sor and scholar of black his­tory who has pro­moted the trac­ing of fam­ily an­ces­try through pop­u­lar tele­vi­sion shows, said the re­lease of the records will be a “great con­tri­bu­tion to Amer­i­can so­ci­ety.”

Mr. Gates, whose PBS se­ries “Find­ing Your Roots” be­gins March 25, said the “gold mine” of 1940 records would add im­por­tant lay­ers of de­tail to an ex­ist­ing col­lec­tion of opened cen­sus records dat­ing to 1790.

“It’s such a rare gift,” he said of the public’s ac­cess to cen­sus records, “es­pe­cially for peo­ple who be­lieve that es­tab­lish­ing their fam­ily trees is im­por­tant for un­der­stand­ing their re­la­tion­ship to Amer­i­can democ­racy, the his­tory of our coun­try, and to a larger sense of them­selves.”

More than 120,000 enu­mer­a­tors sur­veyed 132 mil­lion peo­ple for the Six­teenth De­cen­nial Cen­sus — 21 mil­lion of whom are alive to­day in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, ac­cord­ing to the U.S. Cen­sus Bureau.

The sur­vey con­tained 34 ques­tions di­rected at all house­holds, plus 16 sup­ple­men­tal ques­tions asked of 5 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion. New ques­tions re­flected the gov­ern­ment’s in­tent on doc­u­ment­ing the tur­bu­lent decade, by gen­er­at­ing data on home­less­ness, mi­gra­tion, wide­spread un­em­ploy­ment, ir­reg­u­lar salaries and fer­til­ity de­cline.

Some of the most con­tentious ques­tions fo­cused on per­sonal in­come and were deemed so sen­si­tive they were placed at the end of the sur­vey. Less than 300,000 peo­ple opted to have their in­come re­sponses sealed.

Still, find­ing a name in the 3.8 mil­lion dig­i­tized images won’t be as easy as a Google search: It could be at least six months af­ter the re­lease be­fore a na­tion­wide name in­dex is cre­ated.

In the mean­time, re­searchers will need an ad­dress to de­ter­mine a cen­sus enu­mer­a­tion dis­trict — a way to carve up the map for sur­vey­ing — to iden­tify where some­one lived and then browse the records.

“It may very well frus­trate the new­com­ers,” said Thomas Ma­cen­tee, an in­dus­try an­a­lyst help­ing re­cruit vol­un­teers for a name in­dex­ing ef­fort spon­sored in part by the Mor­mon-run Fam­i­lysearch.org. “It’s like show­ing up on Black Fri­day. If you re­ally want that TV set, if you re­ally want that cen­sus record, you are go­ing to be ready to go and you are go­ing to keep at it no mat­ter what.”

Pub­licly- traded An­ces­try. com, which has over 1.7 mil­lion cus­tomers, is also work­ing to make the cen­sus records search­able by in­dex­ing al­most all fields and pro­vid­ing pro­pri­etary tools to mine the data.

Josh Hanna, a se­nior ad­viser for the com­pany, said the 1940 cen­sus will be the big­gest data­base of its kind. “It’ll be the deep­est level of in­dex­ing we’ve ever done,” he said. Ac­cess to the in­dex and tools will be avail­able for free through the end of 2013.

A 36-year-old Texas man was sen­tenced Mon­day in fed­eral court in Dal­las to 30 years in prison fol­lowed by 30 years of su­per­vised re­lease on his guilty plea to con­spir­acy to traf­fic women for pros­ti­tu­tion, in­clud­ing those in­volved in adult es­cort web­sites head­quar­tered in Dal­las and Fort Worth as well as Bos­ton and Washington.

Mar­cus Choice Wil­liams, 36, of Fort Worth was sen­tenced by U.S. Dis­trict Judge David C. God­bey on his guilty plea to one count of con­spir­acy to trans­port per­sons for pros­ti­tu­tion; six counts of trans­port­ing per­sons for pros­ti­tu­tion; one count of sex traf­fick­ing by force, fraud or co­er­cion; two counts of at­tempted sex traf­fick­ing by

LI­BRARY OF CONGRESS VIA AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Posters like this one urged Amer­i­cans to co­op­er­ate with cen­sus tak­ers. Re­sults from the 1940 cen­sus will be re­leased on April 2, of­fer­ing a “gold mine” of data on De­pres­sion-era Amer­ica.

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