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1940 US census records release has historians excited

April 2, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
The 1940 U.S. census records were released Monday, marking the first time the confidential information has been made public.

Many people have been waiting anxiously for the records to see sunlight, records which have millions of hand-written lines that Americans can weave into a family tapestry. The records can be found online.

"This is the first time they've done that. In the past, it's been by microfilms and it has taken months to get the data," said Jay Holladay, a volunteer at the Burbank-based Southern California Genealogical Society. "(Now) it's available at a specific date and time and everyone has got access to it."

The information gives viewers a glimpse into American life as the country is trying to dig out of the Great Depression while heading toward a World War.

People are eager to get at the 72-year-old information. So many people have flooded the National Archives website that it essentially crashed.

But even for those who successfully gained access, it wasn't an easy search. It has to be searched by precincts and enumeration districts.

To solve that problem, volunteers all across the country, including the ones at the Genealogical Society in Burbank, will sift through all the information so users can search by name. That, however, is going to take a while.

"That probably won't be available for some months, maybe as long as a year," Holladay said. "There's 130 million people in there and each of them has a line on this thing."

To get it all done, the Genealogical Society needs more volunteers to help out to do some digging through the past.


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