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1940 US Census Data Available Online for First Time

Data collected over 70 years ago for the 1940 census is available online to the public for free today for the first time.

The release of the 1940 census records today are following a governmental protocol which stipulates that census records be made public 72 years after being collected.

One of the more unique features to this purging of data is the fact that the entire set of data is available on the internet for free.

Before this, data was made available online if someone wanted to research or look at census data from years past. Before the year 1940, historians would have to go to major libraries or to the National Archives in Washington, D.C., and then scroll through microfilm-reading machines until they found what they were looking for.

Another reason genealogists and family historians are excited about this release is that during the 1940 census, there were new detailed questions that were asked for the first time.

The new questions asked about information concerned with household income, occupation and employment, and if the person had a Social Security number.

It was also a very important time in American history situated right after the Great Depression and right before the United States entered World War II.

"We're talking about a snapshot of the 'Greatest Generation' before they went off to war," said Thomas MacEntee, a genealogy industry analyst.

The 1940 census was also the first time the government used the decennial census, which is required by law in order to track population growth in order to observe economic trends.

"What's important is that this is the census that covers the Depression," Constance Potter, a reference archivist with the National Archives and Records Administration, told

Potter continued: "[The government] wanted to know, are people working? Are they working full time? Where are jobs available? Are there new workers?"

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