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Ask Ancestry Anne: Finding someone in the 1940 Census

Help Anne!

I want to find George Canavan in 1940 in Pittsburgh, possibly on 1919 Warren St. But Pennsylvania is HUGE and I don’t know where to start. I’m impatient and really want to find something. Help me!

— Jolene Worth


Help is on the way.  Let’s lay this out in steps, so we can repeat them later.

Step 1: Street Address  Find a street address if you can.  In rural areas this may not be as necessary, but in cities such as Pittsburgh it is a must unless you want to search tens of Enumeration Districts and thousands of pages.

But we have a possible address, so let’s go with that.  First, I look up the address on a map program so I know cross streets.

Step 2: Find the enumeration district. On the 1940 Census home page, you’ll find tools to help narrow your search.  I chose “Already know the cross streets?”  I choose Pennsylvania, Allegheny, and Warren for the the street. Then I choose Rising Main Ave and Lanark.

Be warned…this works most of the time, but sometimes, the ED is wrong and you have to try other combinations. 

Step 3: Examine the enumeration district.Let’s go to Enumeration District 69-712:

First then we need to do is find the image with the correct street. Go to the Image Controls under Actions and Rotate Right so that you can easily see the street names:

Choose Rotate right and zoom in so you can read the street names, and starting paging through to find Warren.

We find 1919 Warren St on Page 12 and find George Canavan.  Be warned…lots of people have been finding the address only to find that the people they are looking for have moved.  But you don’t know if you don’t look.


Step 4. Examine the image:

So what do we see on the census?  We know that George owned his own home, and it was worth $1200 and it wasn’t a farm. If you move over to the Education column, column 14 has an “H-4” in it which tells us that George completed 4 years of high school. Column 15 tells us he was born in Pennsylvania.

Columns 17-19 tell us that the family lived in the same place in 1935.  That XOXO in Column D tells us that “Same Place” is a legitimate place to have lived in 1935.

Employment information can be found in columns 21-33.  You’ll notice that George worked 32 hours the previous week (Column 26), he was a Crane man in a Steel Mill and he was a paid worker (Columns 28-30) and he worked 52 weeks in 1939 and earned $1200. (Columns 31 & 32).

You will also notice that George’s wife was asked supplemental questions.  And the circled x next to Alice’s name means that she was the one who supplied this information to the enumerator.


If you look down at the bottom of the census image, you will see the supplemental lines (there are two on every image).  The most interesting part here might be that she was 18 when she was first married, it was her first marriage and that she had 2 children.

Make sure you read the image completely when you finally find it!  The information may just confirm what you already now, but the bits of information about education and income give you a picture of the family’s life in 1940.

Happy Searching!

— Ancestry Anne