On April 1, 1940 over 120,000 census takers fanned out across the United States to begin conducting the 1940 census. Over the next several weeks they would enumerate over 131,000,000 residents of the country from President Franklin D. Roosevelt to families living in the remotest areas of the nation.
Genealogists, social scientists, historians, and others, as well as the staff here at the National Archives, are eagerly awaiting the opportunity to discover what life was like as the country neared the end of the Great Depression. The 1940 census reflects the previous decade with questions intended to track migration and employment during the Depression. For the first time the Bureau of the Census employed sampling when conducting the census. Approximately five percent of the population was asked supplemental questions including ones about military service, the birthplace of parents, and, for women, marital status and the number of children.
On Monday morning, I was pleased to co-host the National Archives’ ceremony along with my friend, Robert Groves, Director of the Census Bureau. Together, we officially opened the 1940 census to the public. For the first time, we released the 3.8 million pages of the census online, which was the largest online release of a single series of digitized records by the National Archives.
Immediately following the release, the online traffic to our website was astounding. Within the first 7 hours of the release, the 1940 census website received over 37 million hits. That’s more than 4 million per hour! As a result, visitors to the site experienced difficulty searching and viewing images of the records. We shared your frustration. To help meet the demand and restore functionality to the site, we worked tirelessly with our contractor to open additional servers, and add additional caching to help with the display of images. These changes now allow you to successfully search and view these important census records. We continue to work on the site and expect to make further enhancements throughout the day today.
In keeping with our mission to provide free access to the holdings of the National Archives, the site is available free of charge on any computer with internet access. We invite you to search the records at http://1940census.archives.gov