Friday, March 23, 2012

Counting people, counting days ...

With the 1940 census coming out so soon, all the talk is about how to make the best use of its information, and, particularly, how to work with it before the indexing comes online.
If you know about Steve Morse’s “one-step” tools (at , NOT “.com”) you probably have a handle on how to start looking for people in many different files.  If not, you really need to go to his site and do some exploring.  Great tools!
Since I was born before 1940, my interest in this census is more than genealogical.  I’d love to see the neighbors’ names and their family situations at the time (whose mother was the old lady in the household next door?  Was my playmate’s father really a policeman?). Morse’s procedures make it possible to zero in on specific “enumeration districts,” which provide a means of finding households without a name index if you can locate the street.
Knowing this, my first aim has been to create a list of potential search candidates.  I have Reunion, the genealogy program of choice for many Mac users, but the process is probably similar for most programs which have a “search” feature -- though the terminology may differ.
I selected “Find” in the topmost menu bar, then “Anything.”  This brought up a form which allows for selecting those persons who meet a particular set of conditions.  In my case I chose individuals (U.S. residents, of course) who were known to have died after 1939. This produced a list of over 300 people.
But I also have many persons without known death dates who may have still been alive in 1940. Of course if they were born in 1790, it’s not too likely they were counted in this most recent census. So I chose two conditions: persons born after 1850 (being generous), and with a [blank] date of death. This garnered another 250 names.
The next step was to note the surnames used by the married women as that is how they will be shown in the census. (I did it one name at a time; your program features may allow the spouse’s name to be listed in the original report.) 

Later: I found a way to list the spouses' names, and any other desired data by -- of all things -- consulting Reunion's online manual. Highly recommended!
These results gave me a great starting point.  Of course some people are so obscurely connected I may ignore them, or they have been so thoroughly researched I can set them aside (but -- just take a look at all the interesting questions that were asked in that census! They are listed on the National Archives website in the section listed as: 1940 Federal Population Census, Pt. 1, General Information.)
This method of developing a list of likely candidates is useful for other searches as well. You might devise lists of males born between particular dates who would have been required to register for the drafts in WW I or WW II.  These records may show the person’s next of kin, where he lived at the time of registering, and a description of his physical appearance.  
On your mark, get set, go!

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