Constitution Daily

Smart conversation from the National Constitution Center

The 1940 Census: Get excited, get involved!

April 2, 2012 by Holly Munson


Today is the official release of the 1940 Census! Here's why you should be excited about it--and how you can get involved.

Get excited

The 1940 Census is the largest, most comprehensive set available. Unlike previous census data, many people recorded in the 1940 census are still alive today, providing a tangible connection with today's generation. Plus, the 1940 Census captures vital information about the Greatest Generation--the generation that lived through the Great Depression, fought in World War II, and led the way for technological innovation in subsequent decades.

Here's a look at the 1940 Census by the numbers:

  • 1st time that digital images of the census records will be available online
  • 2 the section in Article I of the Constitution that prescribes the administration of the census, providing Congress the authority to determine the "actual enumeration" of persons, which would then determine the representation in the House of Representatives, "within every ... term of ten years, in such a manner as they shall by law direct"
  • 3 organizations partnering with the National Archives to index the records so they are searchable online for free:,, and
  • 72 years required to pass between when the census is taken and when the information is publicly available, to protect the privacy of those included in the records
  • 87 percent of people alive today who personally know someone living in 1940
  • 120,000 "enumerators," or people who gathered the information for the census
  • 147,000 geographic areas covered in the 1940 Census
  • 3.8 million digital images included in the 1940 Census
  • 132 million people included in the 1940 Census

Get involved

Volunteer to index the 1940 Census! Volunteer indexers parse through the digital images and type out the names and other information, which is entered into a database, or index, that will be searchable online for free.

Volunteering and learning about your family history are great ways to be an active citizen. The 1940 Census is a great way to start! Browse the 1940 Census records online at the National Archives and Records Administration's official 1940 Census website. Learn more about how to index at the 1940 U.S. Census Community Project.

At a glance

For a great overview, check out this infographic from

1940 census

Holly Munson is the Programs Coordinator for Public Engagement at the National Constitution Center.

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