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Carol Kostakos Petranek
Friday, April 20 2012

The 1940 Census: A Genealogy Superbowl

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Last week, the 1940 U.S. Census was released by the National Archives. Jean Bloom of the Chicago Genealogy Society rightly dubbed this as "the superbowl for genealogists" and it's easy to understand why.

For anyone just starting the research process, the 1940 census is a vital first step in successfully locating an ancestor. For those researching immigrant ancestors who arrived in the early-mid 20th century, this census provides an all-important family snapshot as it enumerates the children born and other family members who had arrived from overseas and may be living in the home.

Because there is no name index for this census yet, I cannot go to a website, type in a name, and have my ancestor's record pop up. In a few months, I will be able to do so. But for now, I must use an Enumeration District (ED) number, which I can obtain by determining my family's address on April 1, 1940, then using an online tool developed by Steve Morse (found here) to obtain the ED. I have also learned, to my great delight, that the New York Public Library has published its 1940 Telephone Directories online

My Dad had told me that his parents lived 292 Broadway, Brooklyn, New York. My grandfather's World War II Draft Registration card verified that address, and I also found him in the 1940 NY telephone directory mentioned above.

Kostakos CardJohn Andrew Kostakos, World War II Draft Registration Card

My next step was to use the Steve Morse tool (mentioned above) to determine that the census enumeration district where the family livedwas 24-551. I then went to  1940census.archives.gov looked up ED 24-551 and found their record:

Kostakos John 1940CensusKostakos, John 1940 Census

What a thrill to see this family listed! On lines 65-71 are my grandfather, John Kostakos, his wife, Harriet, and their five children: my father, Andrew, and his four sisters: Pauline, Frieda, Georgia, Alice. On line 72 is William Kostakos, my grandfather's brother, who was living in the house with the family. His relation to head-of-household had been listed as "uncle," then crossed out by the enumerator because Pauline was the person who answered the questions and she knew him as her uncle (his correct relation to the head of the household was "brother.") At the very bottom of the census, Pauline was asked to answer additional questions.

On lines 53-57 are found the Semetis family. The mother, Aspasia, was my grandmother's sister. I vaguely remember meeting these cousins of my father when I was very young, and I am thrilled to have more information about them.

So, how does the 1940 Census help to "turn my heart" to my extended family? Over the years, I've heard my parents talk about cousins, aunts and uncles with whom they had lost touch and whom I never had the opportunity to meet. I know that I as I find them in the census, I will come to feel the special ties that they had with my parents and develop a special love for them. This the joy of genealogy research -- an extension of familial affection and the widening circle of family connections.

Give it a try! If you need help, ask your family history consultant or visit a Family History Center near you. The Superbowl comes only once a year, but the thrill of a "genealogy superbowl" can be yours every time you access a census image of your extended family.

For additional information about accessing 1940 census records, see Dick Eastman's column, 1940 Census, or FamilySearch.org. Please consider being part of the vast army of volunteers who are helping to create an every-name index of the census. Learn more at FamilySearch.org.

Carol Kostakos Petranek is one of the Directors of the Washington DC Family History Center and a Volunteer at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.

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