Finding Your Roots: 1940 Census Records Debut Online

Isabelle MacLean Drown
By Isabelle MacLean Drown June 15, 2012 12:00

As this column goes to press, genealogists are getting a big boost. The long-awaited 1940 U.S. Census became available on April 1. This is great for those who have had a difficult time finding family members who lived during that time.

For privacy reasons, later censuses are not yet released. The 1950 census is expected to be made public in 2022.

The 1940 Census is the first census made broadly available to the public online and free of charge. Previous censuses are available free online, but must be accessed at a Family History Center – more on those shortly – using

The first state to be indexed was Delaware. I was told that 3,000 volunteers were ready to index it within 24 hours of its release. So far, volunteers have indexed more than 34 million records.

Until the state you are searching is indexed, you will have to search through the census, street by street, frame by frame, to find your family – unless you know the enumeration district they lived in, which will narrow down your search considerably. Once the entire census is indexed, you will be able to scroll to your family name, click on it, and go to the page where your family is recorded.

The following link is important, not only to lead you to the 1940 Census Indexing Project and how to become a volunteer, but also to view a new and improved page that will launch you into the ever-expanding Family Search database: This database, which belongs to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is free to all viewers.

Now, let’s go on an ancestor-hunting safari! I will take you step-by-step to using the Family Search database. The home page at automatically opens to the Records section. Here you can do a general search for an ancestor’s name by simply entering it, which will bring up every single record of that name throughout the world.

Or you can narrow the search by clicking on Search by Life Events or Search by Relationships (spouse or parents), or by a Batch Number you may have from previous searches. Then enter your information in the appropriate fields. This is a general search that will sift through 1,136 collections – more than 2.5 billion records. Be patient, it may take a moment or two.

If you know the exact region you want to search, scroll down and choose it from a list under Browse by Location while still on the home page.

Let’s choose Mexico. After clicking on it, a screen will appear with 48 Mexican data collections from which to choose. At the right you will see two columns. One is Records and the other is Last Updated. Under Records you will see how many records are in the collections.

Let’s look at the first collection – Mexico Census, 1930. (The 1930 census is the only federal census available for public review, but some parts are missing. has what is available.) There are 3,129,551 records in that collection, and it was updated on May 12, 2011.

When you click on the collection name, it will take you to a screen where you can enter the name of your ancestor. A list of records for persons with that name then appears. Scroll through the list and choose the record you want to see. On the left of the screen, you are invited to search by birthplace to narrow your search. Also note the little camera icon to the left of the collection title. That tells us that you will be able to see the actual image in the census.

If you have viewed the Mexican collection before and just want recent additions, click on the heading Last Updated. At this time, a collection for Mexico, Baptisms, 1560-1950 with 44,105,755 records was updated on March 14 – that’s right! Forty-four million records are there for you to search absolutely free.

If you need help with these searches, come to any of the local Family History centers – branches of the Family History Library, the massive records repository of the LDS Church in Salt Lake City, Utah. The centers’ volunteers will be happy to help you use this great genealogy resource.

A caution: Remember that is for “name” searches, while is for information about “place” searches.

Until next time, good luck with your research.

Email genealogical expert Isabelle Drown at

 © 2012 Friends and Neighbors

Isabelle MacLean Drown
By Isabelle MacLean Drown June 15, 2012 12:00