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.

The URL of this article is

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *