What Has the National Archives Been Doing to Prepare for the 1940 Census
30 March 2012 by thecuriousgenealogist
Another librarian just copied me on an email that was sent out to the staff of the National Archives from NARA’s Deputy Archivist. I’m passing along the summary which was listed at the end of the letter.
The 1940 Census: This is the 16th decennial census, marking the 150th anniversary of the census. It includes 3.9 million images of Americans living within the existing 48 states and 6 territories on April 2, 1940. By law the information on individuals in the decennial censuses, which is mandated by the U.S. Constitution, is closed for 72 years. The pages were digitized by NARA’s digital imaging staff, who had to get special sworn status from the Census Bureau to be allowed to work with the census.
The Data : Our online data will include an index searchable at the enumeration district level. An enumeration district is an area that a census taker could cover in two weeks in an urban area and one month in a rural area. There is no name level index – yet. Private companies and non-profit organizations will rush to create online name-level indexes, which will take months to complete. [boldface mine. vea]
Back in the Day: NARA released previous censuses on microfilm, meaning we shipped thousands of rolls of microfilm to our regional facilities. Since there was no immediate online access, researchers flocked to NARA facilities to view the microfilm. There would be lines around the buildings, and some facilities even had “midnight madness” openings.
Online : This time around, the crowds will be online. Our IT and contracts staff have prepared for an unprecedented number of web users. First, we awarded a no-cost contract to a company to host the data for us. In return for a free set of the images, the contractor will provide online access services scaled to meet the anticipated high demand. This prevented NARA from having to buy a lot of expensive storage and bandwidth to manage the initial surge of users. The site will support tens of thousands of concurrent accesses to Census data and millions of visitors per hour. In addition, we’ve moved our entire archives.gov web site to the cloud in anticipation of increased traffic on that site as well. Testing shows that it can support millions of users without any degradation of performance. That might sound like overkill, but in 2002 more than a million users within hours tried to access the British Public Records Office 1901 Census web site – and it crashed and stayed down for six months.
A Little Midnight Madness: There won’t be crowds at our buildings, but at midnight on April 2, Trust Fund staff will be handing over the 1940 Census data on disk to the companies that purchased in advance. The full census costs $200,000, and individual states range from $3,000 to $9,000 depending on population size.
Promotion: Public Affairs staff has been working hard to promote the census – not just through traditional means but through innovative ways like a social media “40 Days to the 1940 Census” campaign. Staff across NARA have also been posting on our blogs and Facebook pages to help promote the census.
We’re Ready: Even though the crowds will be mostly online, NARA staff are ready to help them use the census.
· Connie Potter and Diane Petro of Research Services have been training staff around the agency to familiarize them with 1940 Census and how to assist researchers. They’ve conducted both in person and long-distance learning.
· Our 800 number and firstname.lastname@example.org have been staffed up for an expected short but intense burst of activity.
· Our reference staff is doing a lot of “cross-pollination” between the 1940 census and other NARA records
· Staff throughout NARA have been busy giving public training and lectures and distributing educational material.
Some sources say that 80% of Americans will be in or have a relative in the 1940 Census.