Category Archives: 1940 US Census

1940 US Census – Indexing and Arbitration

I haven’t blogged about the 1940 US Census here for a bit. I actually started this blog post ten days ago and forgot about it. A good blog post from Amy Johnson Crow about arbitrating reminded me of it.

There are some issues with indexing and arbitration of the census. Unfortunately, there are a lot of rules that are being ignored. When indexers don’t read the rules, you hope that the arbitrators fix things. When the arbitrators don’t read the rules, well, the indexers get pissed off because they did read the rules and did things correctly. And their arbitration percentages drop anyway.

Randy Seaver of Genea-Musings has analyzed his arbitration results across several blog posts, finding many of the same things that I have. (Although, they probably aren’t on the first page of his blog anymore.)

I bumped myself up to arbitrator a short while ago. As a group administrator, I learned that I have that superpower — not the power to be an arbitrator, but to make myself one. I think some people might say I should index more, but I was getting so annoyed by bad arbitrators that I just couldn’t. I joined a Facebook group specific to sharing batches and discussing indexing, I have read all the project updates and every page of rules for how to index, and I think I know what I’m doing better than some. And having watched other indexers complain, I know which rules many arbitrators keep getting wrong.

As an arbitrator, I’ve learned even more about indexing and the project rules.

Arbitration is partly about knowing the project rules and following them, and partly about judgement calls. Is that messy squiggle an S or an R or an E? There are three possible opinions and it’s only the arbitrator’s that really counts in the end.

Some arbitrators don’t pay any attention to what they’re doing. Many still leave line numbers on blank lines or change R to Same House when the rules say to index the R. I had one arbitrator that changed age 21 to 1, for the wife, when the age was very clear on the page — it’s like they just randomly pick an index without even looking at the page or the data. I am not one of those. I will not submit a batch until I have looked at every entry.

That being said, most of the time, I don’t look very carefully at the data unless the indexers did not agree. If I notice one or both messing up certain things, then I will be more aware of those particular fields. Only once did I really look at every item on the page to verify the index because both indexers messed up so often.

I’m sure there are times when the indexers might curse me for changing what they typed. Especially when the two don’t agree, I do research. I will look up the names of counties and towns and spell them correctly when the enumerator clearly got it very wrong. When we don’t agree on a messily written name, I will check the 1930 census to see if I can find them there to choose which indexer is correct. Sometimes I ding both indexers because I think each is half correct.

One time, I only had to look at about three fields on the whole page. I wanted to tell the indexers “good job”, but there’s no way to do that. They’ll have to settle for their 99% on that one.

I have dinged indexers for putting the line number on blank lines, but it’s entirely possible that some of the indexers did that because a previous arbitrator “taught” them to do it that way.

Another arbitration involved the enumerator swapping two columns. What to do? One indexer typed what was written, which didn’t make sense, and the other “fixed” the columns. I felt bad dinging either of them, but one had to go and the decision (from someone higher up) was to type what you see. So eight people were born in “Same Place” and the city of residence in 1935 was “New Hampshire”.

Another arbitration had both indexers write “Canada French”, when the project rules say to just write Canada.

As an indexer, when I was arbitrated incorrectly (or thought I was), I clicked on feedback and asked it to be rechecked. From what I’ve heard, not much comes of that, but they might be watching a bit more to be sure some arbitrators are not messing up horribly.

The silver lining is that FamilySearch is working on an update so the database uses both indexer’s indexes. As arbitrator, I have sometimes marked both wrong, so I don’t know if they will completely eliminate arbitration, but at least both versions will be searchable. This will be most useful for those judgement call arbitrations, like on name spellings.

In the end, you just have to keep indexing and hope that you get a “good” arbitrator. And if you don’t, walk it off, have some chocolate, and get back in.

Or switch to arbitrating. But please be sure to read every page of indexing rules and be involved online somehow with other indexers and arbitrators so you have a better chance of getting things right.

After arbitrating a few pages, I went back to indexing, especially after the big pop-up notice on the project rules. But my arbitrator still got some of those easy rules wrong. So I’m back to only arbitrating. I had more fun indexing, but I have less frustration from arbitrating.

While I noticed one person stopped arbitrating because of all the complaints, it was my own complaints and possibly the others that make me want to arbitrate. Because we need arbitrators who have read the project rules. Because I’m tired of arbitrators who know fewer rules than I do, messing up the index. Because I signed up to contribute, and if indexing is going to make me mad, then arbitrating is what’s left.

And because I have more people to find in the 1940 US Census that I can’t find addresses for.

How much have you indexed or arbitrated this month?

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1940 US Census – Second Success

While the NARA site is still dragging along (and word on Twitter is they just took it down to make some changes to try to improve performance), I’ve been watching Ancestry and FamilySearch. FS is uploading states that are of no use to me in 1940. Even if I have a few stray entries in my database who might be there, I would need the index to find them.

Ancestry, on the other hand, is keeping me happy today. One of their earliest states to be uploaded was Maine. I have people from Maine. Unfortunately, by 1940, most of them had left for California. But I did find Bernard Wolfe in 1942 still in Maine. I looked up the ED but didn’t find him. Using their 1930-1950 records, I found that he was in Boston from 1930-1939. His trail ran out in the Boston directory for 1940. Was he back in Maine? I searched about six EDs around the one and still didn’t find him.

Onward… they were adding New York. I saw Bronx county and checked my database. Noticing some people in the Bronx around the right time, I switched over to the NYPL 1940 phone directories and found one address among the surnames. I had one other 1941 document for Rose Tabashnick with an address, so I took those over to Steve Morse’s ED Finder, then headed back to Ancestry. But the EDs weren’t listed. And so I waited and refreshed as they added more. Eventually one showed up, and I found the listing that matched the phone book, but he didn’t match my person.

Finally the other ED showed up. I started scanning the pages for Tabashnick. I found Miller. Pesach Miller, with wife Rebecca, daughter Rose, daughter Larry (daughter?), son Eddie, daughter Bella Blumenfeld, and her husband Joe. Also notable is that this is a rare family where no one is marked as having given the census information. So who was the informant?

Pesach Miller Family
Family, Page 2

Of interest is that in 1941, Rose was married. This certainly narrows down her date of marriage, which I don’t have. Also, this saves me from searching for several of Pesach’s kids, as they are still living with him, including one married daughter.

Other things I noticed included that everyone had only an eighth grade education, save for Eddie, and an interesting mix of aliens, naturalized citizens, and those with papers. This entire family was born in Poland.

It also further reinforces that the birth order I had for the kids was wrong. Though I had an order, I didn’t even have estimated dates for many. By the way, Pesach is the brother of my great-grandfather, so we’re getting a bit distant.

I will likely keep looking for people this way, but I don’t have that many 1940 addresses. I’ll see who I can find in the NYC phone directories, and look for them bit by bit as I can get the images, but beyond that, I think I’d be more productive indexing. I just saw on Twitter that indexing should get going around 10pm tonight. I hope Ancestry keeps working on New York until then.

Did you find anyone yet? Or are you waiting to index?

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1940 Census – My First Find

After only or less than three hours of sleep, I got up for the opening ceremony for the 1940 US Census. I knew the servers would be overloaded, but after finding they were using the Amazon cloud, I expected better.

However, after fighting with the web site through no responses and server errors, even seeing “too many connections” among my error messages (so much for scaling up), I was able to download some pages from an ED in New York City. At the UJGS meeting, I looked up the ED for Ludwig Schwartzman, who was living c/o Kessler, so it was a good start because it was two different cousins at the same address.

The ED had 26 pages, and downloading one at a time was tedious to say the least. I noticed the street addresses seemed low and I was worried I was in the wrong ED.

And then, 10 pages in, success!

1940 US Census Success

But wait, where’s Ludwig? Oh, never mind, I found my grandparents! Schooling is interesting as Sidney is H3 and Mary is 8. So Sidney finished three years of high school? I’ll have to look up what that means exactly. And they both work at a laundry that he owns; sounds right. And they lived at the same place in 1935. That’s unexpected.

I’m not usually one to fight with the server on opening day, so this is probably it for me for a while, unless I’m awake at 3am and things are moving along easier. I’ll be watching for chatter about the indexing up and running and get in on that.

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Update: It occurred to me hours later that, while I was looking for Ludwig Schwartzman, he might not even have been in the country yet. How about that? I should check on that sometime, eventually. I also realized I forgot to tag the surnames, and that I probably didn’t even mention them in the post. For the record, I located Abraham Kessler, his wife Esther, daughter Julia, and my grandparents Sidney and Mary Feldstein. Not that they are much for cousin bait, but you never know.

Release of the 1940 US Census

The 1940 US Census will be released on April 2nd. What does that mean exactly?

After 72 years, the US census data will be released to the public. The 1940 census was taken in April, thus the April release date. The 1940 census is unique because it is the first census being released in digital format. NARA has been digitizing their microfilms of the census, a total of 3.9 million images with 130 million names.

FamilySearch, Archives, and findmypast, along with hundreds of societies (including UJGS) and thousands of volunteers (including me) will be indexing the census in a vast collaborative effort sure to produce the first complete index. The images and the index will be free forever on these sites. (I’ll refer to this as the FamilySearch version in this article.)

So what exactly happens on April 2nd?

According to FamilySearch, the census will be released beginning at 9am Eastern time. The first five states that will be available for viewing and indexing will be Delaware, Virginia, Kansas, Oregon, and Colorado. It will be hours, not minutes, until these are all available. It may take up to two weeks to complete the image uploading for the entire country.

According to, they will receive the images from NARA at midnight and begin working around the clock to make the images available.

MyHeritage isn’t very specific, but WorldVitalRecords (now owned/partnered with MyHeritage) says that images will be available on April 2nd with the first indexes searchable by April 3rd. I am not expecting any level of completion, but it seems that whatever they can finish in the first day will be available almost immediately.

So what is a person to do on April 2nd? It seems that the exact release time is a bit vague, with different times given. Or perhaps NARA is providing the images at midnight and FamilySearch is giving themselves a few hours before anyone expects images to be available.

If they were really good, they would coordinate to each put different states online first. In that way, we might have the entire set of images online faster than any one site can complete the task. But I don’t think that will happen.

Mostly, we just have to wait and see. I hope everyone is already set up to help with indexing, because the FamilySearch servers may be a bit more overloaded tomorrow with everyone trying to access the images and download them for indexing. If not, download it now and try it out.

Edit: Good news. The NARA web site at will have the entire census online at 9am, while the other companies are still uploading to their own servers. But there’s no telling how much traffic the site can manage. It may be a while, or the middle of the night, until it’s accessible.

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Indexing Fun

Prepping for the 1940 US Census, I had a few snags while setting up the indexing program. I’ve had a chance to get back to it and try it out.

First of all, when setting up, the program crashed on me a few times. I haven’t seen that again, so that’s an improvement. Sometimes it’s another program running that conflicts and causes problems, and sometimes it’s just Windows.

Last time, I had some trouble with the View Sample in the Download Batch screen. This time, I was able to see a sample, although it didn’t quite match what I indexed. I was shown a World War II draft registration card but the project was for World War I draft registration. I downloaded and indexed a batch, which took me about 30 minutes.

The next batch I tried, I thought I clicked to view the sample again, but I never saw a sample. I probably clicked a couple times and hit the OK button once and it downloaded the batch. This time, I had ten images of marriage records, two records to each image. Again, this batch took me around 30 minutes or just a bit more.

The highlighting was far off on the draft registrations and non-existent for the marriage records. I did like that part about the census, but that’s a more uniform image with a lot more information condensed, so you need it more to keep track of where you are.

I did have a delay downloading at least one of the batches, but it was just a slow download. I’m also having all kinds of connectivity issues today, so it could be my own ISP.

Prior to this, I was able to add UJGS as my group, because I submit the society to the program. I still don’t know what that will tell me. I can’t find anywhere to look for more information. I assume it should give indexing statistics and a list of who is signed up for the group.

I just hope that the 1940 US Census pages I’m given are as readable as today’s records were.

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14 Days To Go – Are You Ready To Index?

I got a little behind the schedule I’d roughly planned for my 1940 US Census posts. We have two weeks until the census is released. Are you ready to help index?

I finally downloaded the indexing software today and took it for a quick test run.

I didn’t even have to log in to the site to download the software. Just follow the link in my sidebar (on the Ambassador Badge) and scroll to the bottom of their page, or go straight to the download page. I chose to download the software and it automatically gave me the Windows version. I guess it checks up on your computer and saves you from choosing. It took a few minutes to download — I was also downloading the society kit, so that probably slowed it down a bit too. The file is 40MB. The installation had no options and went very quickly.

Log In - Password Requires A Digit

The program immediately opened to full screen mode, which I hate, and presented a login window. There is also an option to register, but I’d already done that in the past. I didn’t remember which password I’d used, because it had numerical requirements and my “default” doesn’t have any numbers, so I tried the reset password link, and then I was good.

Once logged in, I could size down the window and move it to my other monitor. The window was just blank for a minute. Then it crashed.

Trying again, I had to log in again. Will it not remember? At least it didn’t crash the second time. Another window asked me to choose a group. UJGS is not registered yet, so I skipped it. A license agreement was next, then a quick start video. I decided to watch the video (which opened in my browser) which was almost six minutes and a good introduction. Meanwhile, the indexing program moved on.

Pick A Group

The video said that the first batch was already selected, something to introduce the software, but that’s not what I got. When I clicked to “Download Batch”, I was presented with three projects in the “preferred projects” list. I switched to “show all projects” and found the 1940 simulation at the top. (I was placed in the middle of the list and had to scroll up.)


I tried to “View Sample”, but it didn’t seem to work. When I tried again, the part 1 sample was gone, so I could only try part 2. This time, I just chose “OK”. When that seemed to finish loading, another window popped up with just an image. I think that was my view sample finally working, possibly. I closed it without paying enough attention to see if it was different than the second part.

Everything then looked good for indexing. I clicked around a little and found I had to enlarge the window to see the “Quality Checker” tab correctly; it didn’t scroll. If you’ve got a low resolution monitor, you could be in trouble on that part. I think the rest of them had scroll bars.

The first line of the sample threw an exception. A couple of fields that said “required” were blank. Reading the “Field Help” tab, it said to leave them blank. So, not very required then?

I like how it highlighted pretty well as I was indexing so I knew what column it wanted and I didn’t lose track of the row. I had looked around the menus and frames more than I’ve written here and noticed in the Options settings that I could change the highlight color, which is cyan by default.

It was pretty easy to use once I got started. The image automatically scrolls as you index, so you don’t have to keep moving up to it to move it along. I also love how it automatically capitalizes properly. It also remembers your entries, so once you’ve typed out the house number, surname, and relationships, the last house and surname show up by default on the next line and it only takes the letter D for daughter to show up. It wasn’t as friendly in that column after I typed daughter-in-law as a test. It just showed the most recent option that started with D, so I had to click on it to see more options. But certainly for house number and surname, that came in very handy.

There are some options above the frame for the data entry. The ñ icon opens a menu of letters with diacritical marks for using in other languages. The quill has some handwriting samples to help out if you get stuck.

And then the program crashed again while I was typing that paragraph. Restarting, I had to type my login again. I guess it’s not going to remember.

Just as the video said, it remembered where I was in the data entry and had saved all the information.

There are two X icons for marking a field or a row blank. The ? icon is for marking unreadable, again the field or the entire row. (My image below only shows one for each because of where my data entry was when I did the screen capture.)


I decided to quit the page long before I was finished, since it was just a sample. The quality checker didn’t like all my blanks, so I marked the extra rows blank and then it let me submit the page.

One other thing I didn’t mention is that the image can be zoomed in and out; it started me at 50%, which was good except for one thing that was written small. There are also instructions and helps in a couple of places.

Unfortunately, as I tried to do a bit more, FamilySearch Indexing went down for maintenance, which I discovered when I tried to “edit my preferences” (just to try it) on the download batch window. Not very good timing for writing this post.


Either way, the download gave me the version I needed automatically, it took 5-6 minutes to download, the installation was quick, the program crashed a couple of times, and the indexing was pretty easy. And even when it crashed, it saved the data I had typed, so it was just inconvenient to start it again and log in again, but no work was lost.

And now I’m ready to index in two weeks. I’ll probably do a little before then, now that I have the program and there are lots of projects to choose from.

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Who Do You Need To Find?

The 1940 US Census will be released to the public in about a month. Who are you hoping to find? I’ve got a few names.

Besides the obvious of those already found in the 1930 census who survived the decade, I have a few mysteries to work on that I hope this census will help with.

A cousin who is now deceased told me about some possible cousins. They were, at the least, good friends of the family. But she gave me their Yiddish names, making it even more difficult to find them.

For starters, Basya and Isya Greenfield could have a variety of Americanized names. They will probably be the hardest to find, as I’ve searched for Greenfield before and there are a lot.

Jan and Celia Kaminsky and son Julian should be easier. I almost found them in the 1930 census, but the son was listed as Lucian. My cousin could have been wrong, but I’m going to check in 1940 for a better match before I put in a lot of effort into researching the wrong family. If I can’t find a better match than the 1930 find, then that’s who I will look for.

Another mystery is the Smith family. That’s right, I’ve got Jewish Smiths in New York: Abram and Florry Smith, though I’m not sure if that’s his wife or daughter. A postcard sent to my grandmother from Florry was probably sent in the 1930s, given the address. I haven’t been able to find a likely match in 1930, so hopefully 1940 will help. I know Abram was in the US before 1933, but I have no dates on any of the photos.

I had a few arrivals in the 1930s including Fanny Rosenthal. I’m also curious if I’ll find anything about her mysterious husband. She probably only married to move to the US, but I wonder if they were legally divorced. Not that the census will tell me, but it will tell me where she lived. Was she working at Grossinger’s yet? Probably not. Yesterday was the anniversary of her death there in 1954.

Sam Feldstein died in 1933, but his wife Clara and their many descendents should be in there too. Maybe I’ll find enough information to find a living descendent. The right clue could lead to figuring out if we’re really related to that family.

I haven’t even tried to look up addresses or EDs. I plan to help index. Then we’ll all be able to search by name sooner.

Do you have some mystery people that are begging to be found in this census?

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40 to 40

In 40 days, the 1940 US Census will finally be released to the public. What does this mean?

If you’re a genealogist, it probably means you’ll be glued to your computer trying to access the images on one of a number of sites that will have them up right away. I have a vague memory of the 1930 census being released ten years ago and how the web sites couldn’t handle the traffic. Hopefully the technology is up to the task, in addition to multiple sites sharing the load.

Some genealogists right now are trying to find addresses for their ancestors and other relatives and look up the enumeration districts to be ready to search for them.

But what should we really be doing?

We should be signing up to help index. Three major players in the online genealogy business have teamed up to provide the images and create an index that will be available for free: FamilySearch,, and findmypast. The place to sign up is at From there, you can sign up, read a few things about the census, and download the indexing software.

So what are you waiting for? Have you signed up to help index yet? I have.