On April 2, 2012, NARA will release the population schedules free to the public on its online public access search. "You will now be able to do research from your home computer to scroll through digital images," explained NARA in its February 18, 2011 researchers' forum. Commercial vendors, such as Ancestry.com, will also have the census available.
Searching by Enumeration Districts
When NARA does release the census it won't be a matter of typing in surnames: NARA is only indexing by enumeration districts. And while Ancestry.com will have a name index available at some point, it is too early to know exactly when that will be, according to Simon Ziviani, global director of public relations for Ancestry. If you don't want to wait for a name index, then you'll need to determine the 1940 enumeration districts relevant to your search.
To figure out which enumeration districts those are, you'll need addresses. How specific the address needs to be depends on where your relatives lived. For rural locations, the town/township/county may suffice, but for urban addresses, you'll want to nail down a house number and street name.
City directories, those wonderful descriptions of citizens' numbers, addresses, ages and occupations, are a great resource for finding urban addresses. Telephone books and local history books can also be invaluable for urban or rural addresses; in my county, local history books divide a township into its respective lots and list all the owners of each lot over the last 150 years, along with a name index.
Rummaging through your own records on relatives – birth, death, marriage certificates, letters, photos, etc., may turn up circa 1940 addresses. But if it doesn't, visit or contact the local archives or library to see what resources they may have to assist you. If you have found relatives on the 1930 census and believe they may have been in the same location during the 1940 census, NARA recommends using the ED converter utility at stevemorse.org/. To make things even easier, NARA will also post maps and enumerations online this summer.
Patience and Legwork
The legwork, then, to crack the 1940 census as soon as it comes out is this:
1. Compile the names of everyone you will be searching for.
2. Locate the 1940 addresses for these people.
3. Determine their enumeration district in the 1940 census.
The last step of course, is to actually go through the census, but be patient. "Researchers should be prepared for high-demand on the web site," states the report from NARA's February research forum. "This is new, so we do not know how many people may want to use the site on April 2."
In the meantime, NARA is offering a workshop on the 1940 census as part of its Seventh Annual Genealogy Fair in Washington D. C. this spring. The fair, which runs on April 20 and 21, 2011, is free, doesn't require a reservation and is geared towards genealogists of all skill levels. The 1940 census session takes place on Thursday April 21; visit www.archives.gov for more information.