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A N D N O W I T ' S T H E L A W O F T H E L A N D.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

1940 Census Opened

On this coming Monday, the National Archives will release its first-ever digitzed version of a census to the Internet.  If you are into researching your genealogy, or even if you never have but would like to start, this is a welcome development; census records are kept confidential for 72 years to protect people's privacy.  Below, a government archivist explains how the records have been prepared for online release.

And here, a family historian explains the unique features of the 1940 census and what you can do with it.  Of course, the best way to start researching your roots is to begin with what you know - the present - and work backwards.

1940 Census Release from PPLD TV on Vimeo.

As a public service, your Head Trucker would like to pause here and offer this tip to budding filmmakers:  DO NOT MINDLESSLY REPLAY THAT CUTESIE PERIOD MUSIC ALL THE WAY THROUGH THE FUCKING MOVIE.  Twenty seconds' worth at the beginning and again at the end is totally sufficient.  Unless, of course, you intend to IRRITATE THE LIVING HELL OUT OF YOUR VIEWERS.  Just sayin'.

And one other big tip, to everybody: for every single bit of info you dig up on your ancestors, no matter how trivial, make a note of exactly where you found it. Trust me on this. Yes, it's a little irritating at first, when you are so excited and eager for the hunt - but if you make this a habit, you soon will get used to it, and it will save you major grief on down the road.

There are any number of good and inexpensive software programs that will make all of it easier, such as Family Tree Maker - about $35 last time I checked. Or you can do what your Head Trucker did, and just download the free software from the Mormon website, which is very user-friendly and has all the essential tools you need to keep track of your family data.  It works just fine, and is dandy for a beginner.

For several years after I finally got a home computer in 1999 - yes, I was a tad late to the party, but I kept thinking it was all just a fad - I devoted a lot of time to climbing the branches of my family tree, and with persisitence, and help from a couple of cousins as well as some paid help from a couple of very nice professional genealogists, I finally was able to track down all but one of my 16 great-great grandparents, and 22 out of my 32 great-great-great grandparents. Which takes me back to colonial times in the 18th century, and all the lines that I can trace that far go back to old Virginia or Maryland.

Which is about what I figured when I started.  It would be nice to get further back to England, but that would require digging in archives and things that aren't online, or paying someone to do it, and I just decided to quit while I was ahead; I have enough to confirm the general course of my ancestry, and that was a very satisfying research project.   It's also a wonderful hobby because you never get to the end of it:  there's always another branch to trace, more kinfolks to search for.  And all that contributes to your understanding of who you are, exactly, and where you came from.  As well as who you are not.

I'm over it now, largely because there's no easy way to go further back, but I can recommend ancestry.com for folks who want to do their own digging.

Before we leave this topic, you boys might enjoy this 1940 short the Census Bureau put out to encourage folks to cooperate with the census takers. The film begins, as so many made in that era did, with a paean to our great, shining Republic, wholly devoid of irony or self-consciousness, a thing not possible today for a number of reasons. I'm sad to say.


Frank said...

Russ, Thanks for this info; I'll take a look, but unfortunately most of my ancestors were in Italy. That's a future trip...and I'm really pissed at the Mormons for baptizing dead people who were not of their faith so I won't have anything to do with their website.

Russ Manley said...

Well I can understand your feeling, for sure, but if the Knights of Columbus were handing out free sodas at the city park on a hot day, would you refuse to accept one because Pope B-16 is a homophobe? Up to you, of course. But it's a giveaway, you don't have to sign in, give your name, or sing hallelujah, just go dowload the program like you would a music track, and that's all there is to it.

I've been using the software for, oh maybe close to ten years now, long before all this recent stuff came up with the Mormons and Prop 8, etc. If you prefer something else, I'd recommend Family Tree Maker, which is higher powered and still pretty cheap; you can probably get it even cheaper on eBay too.

And I strongly recommend Ancestry.com, which has tons and tons of records (birth, death, marriage, newspapers, passenger lists, draft cards, etc., etc.) from all over, including some from Europe and Italy (not as much as they have for the U.S., though); cost is $77 for six months - but a lot of public libraries have a subscription for patrons so that would be a free route if available at your local library.

I think Ancestry.com lets you do a free trial, so cruise on over there and check it out first.

Also try Rootsweb.com - totally free, and the Global Search feature is very helpful. Also Genealogy.com, another free site. Sometimes just googling an ancestor's name can lead you to good sources.

Oh and if there are any oldsters in the family still kicking around, be sure to ask them questions and write stuff down NOW - I wish I had. By the time I got started, there was nobody left from my parents' generation or before to ask about things.

Tim said...

Russ, do you think America was a more united nation in 1940, were politics less divisive then. I wonder (just wonder, I don't know the answer)if pandering to every faction, political hue, lunatic fringe, etc, causes, not resolves, division in a nation?

On a lighter note, I like the stirring music, it reminds me of cinemas and those old movie newsreels of the 50's!

Russ Manley said...

Mmm, politics in this country has always included a certain level of divisiveness, that's the nature of the beast. Roosevelt endured years of virulent attacks from the opposition forces; for that matter, so did Lincoln, and Jefferson before him, and Washington - yes, even St. Washington - before him. You'd be surprised how nasty their critics were in what we think of, wrongly, as some golden age of patriotism and peace. But the fact is, there has never, ever been a time in American history when politics was all sweetness and light, 24/7.

Go google up the history of Roosevelt's term, and the opposition to all his "socialist" New Deal policies, and his alleged attempt to turn the country into a "dictatorship" - sound familiar?

Or for a fictional version of massively dirty tricks in politics, watch the classic Jimmy Stewart film, "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington."

Having said all that - there was a difference between that time and ours, and it's hard to put my finger on what exactly makes the difference. For one thing, there was more civility in what was allowed to go into newspapers, magazines, radio, and movies. For another, although there were sharp political differences, the two main parties were not as polarized as they are now, between screaming PC lefties and frothing fundamentalist rightwingers. Despite all the political posturing, the ancient rule in Congress was "if you want to get along, you have to go along" - and so after all the shouting, each side compromised a bit, most of the time, and eventually passed what was needed; unlike now, where the Repubs just point-blank refuse to pass anything, as with the debt ceiling last summer.

I'd have to think more on the question to give a better answer here, but read up on the New Deal times and you'll soon be able to draw your own conclusions on the similarities and differences with our time.

Tim said...

Thanks Russ, very enlightening as ever. America's history as taught in UK schools paints Roosevelt as very much a saviour, with assumed universal support.

It's interesting watching things back home in the UK with a coalition in power. I would like to think there was more consensus in politics because of it, but in fact the two major parties (Conservative & Labour)still think that attacking one another to score media points rather than constructive dialogue is best, and the small third party (Liberals) even though part of the coalition, remain somewhat marginalised.

We vote them in and get the politicians we deserve, true, but we don't have much to choose from!

What a nice young couple in Fridays post, a lot of consensus there! As ever, have a good weekend. Tim ;)

Russ Manley said...

Schoolbooks have so much ground to cover, they tend toward headline events and often leave out some important nuances. Yes, to many people here, working-class people, Roosevelt was indeed a kind of savior. As my little grandmother used to say, in her down-home way: "If it hadn't a-been for Roosevelt, we'd have all perished to death." So in my family FDR was always a saint. The wealthy and their mouthpieces, on the other hand, saw him as Lenin's little brother and assailed him fiercely - even though he was one of their own. But he had a heart and a social conscience, unlike many of his wealthy peers at that time.

If you want an accurate, vivid presentation of the times, if you have Netflix or something like it, I recommend two excellent PBS documentaries, "Landslide: A Portrait of President Hoover" and "The American Experience: FDR" - watching both will give you a broad view of both sides of the political and economic spectrum.

But the more things change, the more they stay the same, ya know? Here we are 80 years later and ignoramuses are still ranting about the Communist threat from Russia - which would be funny if it weren't so sad. As far as politicians go, we don't have much to choose from over here, either.

Glad you like the WfW couple, a happy consensus there for sure!

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