New census info opens history's doors

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Tuesday, May 1, 2012
— The Green County Genealogical Society was among other societies that celebrated the April 2 release of the 1940 federal Census with special meetings and other events.

"We hosted a program on accessing the records, and the Monroe Public Library hosted a lock-in after the regular library hours," said Donna Kjendlie, Beloit, president of the organization.

Although the Census data has existed since it was gathered by the federal government in 1940, the National Archives and Records Administration does not release records to the public, for privacy reasons, until 72 years after they have been gathered, Kjendlie explained.

That's why genealogists, she said, eagerly awaited this census so they could research:

-- Where their parents or other ancestors were born.

-- What their native tongue was.

-- What kind of work they did.

-- When their ancestors immigrated and whether they obtained their citizenship.

-- How long they were married.

-- How much education they had.

-- Whether they rented or owned their home.

"The 1940 census is helpful because it was right after the Great Depression and just before World War II, so it gives a good picture of family life in America. It also gives a better picture of what life was like for our parents, grandparents and even for some of us," she said.

Any census is a good place to start genealogy research, Kjendlie said, but only after you've looked up obituaries, organized family lines and talked to parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles who can provide basic facts and family stories.

The federal Census has been taken since 1790, but there also are state censuses along with mortality, agricultural and other censuses. Each census asks different questions, so one answer leads to another question, she said.

"No one can ever say they have all their genealogy finished. We can quit searching, but we are never done," said Kjendlie, who suggested these tips to get started with your research:

1. Access some general information about the 1940 census before attempting to do research on these nonsubscription websites:
-- www.census.gov
-- 1940census.arc hives.gov/
-- Familysearch.org
-- Ancestry.com to obtain blank census forms.
2. Know the name, city and state of the person you are going to research.
3. Know the enumeration district the person you are researching lived in; it is available at www.archives.gov/research/search or stevemorse.org/census/unified.htm. Here you will find maps that will show you the city, but sometimes if the city is large you may have to break it down by continuing to search. Each map section has numbers written on it. For instance, in Green County, Decatur Township would have a number of 23-10. This is a big help when going into the census because that is where the information is.
4. After searching the 1940 site and getting all the information you can, you could go back and check the 1930 census to find earlier information about whom you are researching.

Last updated: 4:05 pm Wednesday, December 19, 2012

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