History was made on Monday when the U.S. Census Bureau, in conjunction with the National Archives, released the 1940 census records online.
The census information that you thought would be confidential forever is kept that way, but "forever" to the government has a statutory limit of 72 years.
While this may not seem like a big deal, the release of the data, including forms and maps, is like Christmas on steroids for historians and genealogists. The website containing the data crashed several times on Monday due to the overwhelming number of page requests.
Since we are living longer, about 21 million of the 132.2 million counted in 1940 are still alive today.
The 1940 census gives a snapshot of our nation as it struggled to get out of the Great Depression and just shy of a year later, Americans would be involved in the second World War. Many would not live to see the 1950 census.
The information being released includes people's names, ages, addresses, marital status and number of children. It also includes occupations and, for a sample of respondents, how much they earned.
It is not searchable by name, but if you had a rough idea of where your relatives lived in 1940, you will be able to find the enumeration district -- the area a census taker covered (it was all done in person back then) -- you will be able to browse the forms.
Nostalgia is a powerful and popular drug, one that we all like to imbibe in, and this release of data is full of nuggets.
Some of the communities in the county, hit hard by the Great Depression, lost population from 1930. Le Mars' population was 5,353. The forms don't indicate the count from the 1930 census.
The enumeration districts have notes about the counts. For Le Mars, the Plymouth County Jail, Sacred Heart Hospital, St. Joseph's Convent and Western Union College were to be shown separately. In Marion Township, the Plymouth County Poor Farm was to be shown separately. St. Catherine's Convent in Oyens and St. Mary's School in Remsen were to be shown separately as well.
The census' website is filled with all sorts of facts and figures comparing the 1940 and the 2010 census.
The total population of the nation in 1940 was 132.2 million. The 2010 census put the total population of the nation at 308.7 million.
The 1940 census was the first time census takers gathered information about the homes people lived in. The 31 questions asked about refrigeration equipment, the presence of a radio, flush toilets or outhouses, running water or whether the principal lighting equipment was electric, gas or kerosene.
Some of the occupations listed as responses in the 1940 census were frame spinner, salesman, laborer and rivet heater.
For racial description, the following were provided for "color or race": White, Negro, Indian, Chinese, Filipino, Hindu and Korean. In the Le Mars pages I have viewed, it is not uncommon to see places like Germany and Denmark for "place of birth."
The median annual wage or salary for men in 1940 was $956, women earned $592. In 2010, men earned $33,276, women $24,157. I'll do the math for you. In 1940, women earned almost 62 cents compared to a dollar for a man, in 2010, the gap has narrowed to 73 cents.
There were 5.1 million farmers in 1940. In 2010, there were 613,000.
In 1940, there were 100.7 males per 100 females. In 2010, there were 96.7.
In 1940, the average cost of a new car was $1,611. A gallon of gas was 18 cents. A one pound loaf of bread cost 8 cents. Glenn Miller had two of the top five songs of the year: "In the Mood" at number two and "Tuxedo Junction" at number five. Artie Shaw's "Frenesi" was number one.
This snapshot is an interesting look back at our nation, just before we went through the crucible and became a superpower.
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