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Ask Ancestry Anne: What Should I Do With A Census Image?

Question: I found my family in the 1940 Census, but I’m not sure what to do now. Is there something else I should be looking for?

— Jo Anna Worthington

Answer:  Finding the record is only part of the game. The next step is to figure out how to use the information in it. I’ll use George J. Hickman’s family from the 1940 census as our example.


Step 1.  Learn everything you can from the record.

The 1940 census has a lot of information.  For now, we’ll look at

  1.   Names, ages, birthplaces, and relationships
  2. Residence in 1940 and 1935
  3. Occupation

Get started by selecting “View image.”


Names, ages, birthplaces and relationships.

The image shows that George is living with his wife, Edna; four daughters, Doris, Deloris, Frances, and Betty Joyce; his son, George; and his Uncle William.  Everyone was born in Virginia except Edna, who was born in West Virginia.

Doris and Deloris are both 8.  Twins?

Uncle William is listed as single. He was likely never married; otherwise, he would probably be listed as divorced or widowed.

Where they lived in 1940 and 1935.

The Hickmans lived on Road #685 in Natural Bridge, Rockbridge County, Virginia.


Street names and addresses, when available, are listed vertically in column 1.


If the family lived in the same house in 1935, you’ll see “Same House” in column 17, or if they lived in the same town but a different house, you’ll see “Same Place.” The Hickmans have an “R” in column 17.  This R means rural and tells us they lived in another town with a population under 2,500.


What they did for a living.

Columns 28 and 29 tell us George was a tinner in the building industry, and Uncle William was a section hand for the railroad.


Step 2.  Write down what you learn.

Don’t tell yourself, “Oh, I’ll remember this.”  You won’t.  Save the record to your family tree. If you don’t already have an family tree, you’ll have the option to create one using this record.


Also, take notes about what you find on a record – even consider creating a notebook with a page or tab for everyone in the family. That way you’ll know where you found that key birth date or maiden name and you won’t have to dig through all of the records you’ve discovered to find that information again.

Step 3. Ask new questions.

Every time you learn something new about your ancestors, chances are you’ll end up with a few more questions, too. Here are some things we don’t know about the Hickmans:

  1. Where exactly did they live in 1935?  Why did they move?
  2. When did George and Edna marry?
  3. When did Edna move to Virginia?
  4. Why was Uncle William living with the family
  5. Were Doris and Deloris twins?
  6. What is a tinner? What did a section hand do? 
  7. Who were their neighbors?  Did any other Hickmans live in the area?

Each of these questions are linked to another record collection.

Question 1 – where they lived in 1935 – may be answered by a city directory, which may also tell you George’s occupation. If it changed between 1935 and 1940, that may mean George took a new job with a new employer, which triggered the family’s move.

Question 2 could be answered by a marriage record.

Question 3 will require Edna’s maiden name, which can be found on that marriage record, which can then be used to find Edna with her parents in earlier census records, and so on.

Familiarizing yourself with all of the records available on and the type of details contained in each will make your search for more answers simpler.


1940 Census Update—All States and Territories Now Indexed and Searchable!

That does it. As we told you this morning, you can now search for your relatives from any state in the just-completed index to the 1940 census on We took the latest state indexes for a test drive and here’s who we found.

Christopher Lloyd
In the hit movie Back to the Future, we see “Doc Brown” as he was in 1955. Now we can travel back in time and catch a glimpse of actor Christopher Lloyd in 1940. A one-year-old, he was living in Stamford, Fairfield Co., Connecticut, with his parents, sister Adele, and several servants.

Ernest Hemingway
Ernest Hemingway was enumerated with his wife Pauline in 1940 at his famous home at 907 Whitehead on Key West, Monroe Co., Florida. It was not to be for long. That year he divorced Pauline, married the famous war correspondent, Martha Gellhorn, and moved to Cuba.

Charlton Heston
Although he was born John Charles Carter in 1923, by the time of the 1940 census, at age  16, John was already going by Charlton Heston—a combination of his mother’s maiden name and his step-father’s last name. 

Kim Novak
Model and actress, Kim Novak, was born Marilyn Pauline Novak in 1933, and in 1940, she’s living in Chicago at 1910 Springfield Avenue. Her dad worked as a clerk for a “steam railway,” earning $1,060 in 1939.

Quincy Delight Jones, Jr.
When Rashida Jones was featured on Who Do You Think You Are? this past season, we learned a bit about her mother’s side of the family. Now we can learn a little about her dad, music producer Quincy Jones. At age seven, he was living with his parents and brother on Chicago’s South Side, at 3548 Prairie Avenue. His father was employed in construction as a carpenter.

Antoine Dominique “Fats” Domino Jr.
R&B legend Antoine “Fats” Domino was only twelve in 1940. His family was living next door to Harrison Verrett, a relative who is credited with helping him learn to play.

Elvis Presley
“The King” was five years old and living in rural Lee County, Mississippi, where his father, Vernon, worked as a carpenter on a sanitary project and mom, Gladys, was a seamstress.

Morgan Freeman
Morgan Freeman’s family moved around quite a bit when he was young, but the 1940 census found him living at 3412 Vernon Avenue in Chicago, Cook Co., Illinois. His father’s relationship to the head of household is listed as “partner,” which is a common notation you’ll find on the 1940 census. The enumerators were instructed that, “if two or more persons who are not related by blood or marriage share a common dwelling unit as partners, write head for one and partner for the other or others.” Here on the heels of the Great Depression, it’s not surprising to find friends pooling resources and sharing a residence.  

Jack Nicholson
Jack Nicholson was raised by his grandparents as their own child. In 1940, his is living in Neptune, Monmouth Co., New Jersey with grandmother, Ethel, listed as the head of household. His mother, June and Jack list their relationship to her as daughter and son, respectively. Ethel worked as a beautician and June was working as an exhibition dancer for a theatrical agency.

Willie Hugh Nelson
In 1940, Willie Nelson and his sister Bobbie were living in Hill County, Texas, with their widowed grandmother. They are listed as “son” and “daughter.” Bobbie began playing piano in her brother’s band in the 1970s and continues to tour with him.

Andy Griffith
The late Andy Griffith is living with his parents in Mount Airy, Surry Co., North Carolina, a place that is reminiscent of the setting for his famous Andy Griffith Show.  The town embraces that link and is home to the Andy Griffith museum.  It is still home to the original “Snappy Lunch” diner, and the town hosts “Mayberry Days” every September. (Yes, there is also a Floyd’s Barber shop now.)

Don Knotts
Andy’s co-star Don Knotts, was living with his widowed mother, and brother in the town where he was born, Morgantown, Monongalia Co., West Virginia. His brother had earned $300 in the past year working as a laborer in school construction.

Charles Hardin “Buddy” Holley
April 8, 1940. “That’ll be the day” that the census taker came to call at the Holley household, where Ella P. gave the details (indicated with the x in a circle after her name) on her son Charles H., who would someday be known to the world as rock and roll legend, Buddy Holly.

John McCain
In 1940, Senator John McCain’s family was still living in the Panama Canal Zone where he had been born in 1936, and where his father was a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy.

Find your family now in the fully searchable 1940 U.S. Census.

1940 U.S. Census: 50 States, 134 Million Names, 1 Index

Today is all about numbers. The first is 100, as in 100 percent of the 1940 U.S. Federal Census is now indexed. That means all 50 states are available to search to your heart’s content. Our indexing came up with 134,395,545 people counted. Most reports on the 1940 census give the U.S. population as 132 million and change, so you may be wondering where the extra 2 million people came from.

Two words: Puerto Rico. OK, and Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and Panama Canal Zone. They were all included in the 1940 U.S. census and add another 2.1 million or so records to the final count.

  The Oldest American(s) We came up with a tie for the oldest person in the census: Mary Dilworth of Oxford, Mississippi,  

  and Cándido Vega Y Torres of Guayama, Puerto Rico, both listed their ages as 119.  

  We identified 35,646,274 heads of household, for an average household size of 3.7 people. The average age of the respondent who talked with the enumerator was 43.   Where Did They All Come From? It’s probably not difficult to guess the number one state reported as birthplace on the census, but a couple of the other nine might surprise you. Here they are in order:

  • New York
  • Pennsylvania
  • Illinois
  • Ohio
  • Texas
  • Missouri
  • Michigan
  • North Carolina
  • Georgia


Amongst foreign-born folks, the top five reported birth countries were

  • Italy
  • Germany
  • Russia
  • Poland
  • England  


So, What’s Your Name? We can also tell you the top 10 male and female names on the 1940 census: John William James Robert Joseph George Charles Frank Edward Richard   Mary Anna Helen Margaret Elizabeth Dorothy Ruth Marie Rose Alice   If you need proof, just stroll down this street in Butler, PA:  


The top five surnames in the 1940 census were

  • Smith
  • Johnson
  • Brown
  • Williams
  • Jones.  

Who Do You Want to Find? But the most important number in the 1940 U.S. Census might be 1. That one date you’ve been waiting to find. That one relative you hadn’t been able to locate until now. That one discovery that opens up a dozen more. One more question, one more record, one last look… So dig in and enjoy. After all, it’s 10 years before we get another one.

Ask Ancestry Anne: How to Customize Your Google Searches

As you know, the 1940 US Census is free to anyone that registers to and this has allowed us to make this information more available through channels such as Google.  Everyone who appears in the 1940 census, all 132 million plus will have their own page that you can find through a Google search.

With a few tricks you can find these pages and other information that people have posted on various blogs and websites that might be interesting and help you further your research.

Let’s say you are looking for a George Smith that you knew had lived on East 6th Street in New York in the 1940’s.  You might try:

Notice that i typed in east 6th in double quotes.  This tells the search engine that I want the phrase “east 6th” on the web page.

This produces the results:

And clicking on the George Smith link, gives us:

Let’s say now you are curious who else lived on East 6th Street in 1940.  Who were George’s neighbors?

Let’s try looking for pages with the phrases:

  • 1940 census
  • east 6th street
  • new york new york

This gives us a list of people on the 1940 census that we can investigate. 

Now the 1940 census pages are convenient but these techniques can be used for other things in a Google search.

Let’s try looking for George Smith who was born in New York and on pages that have Genealogy theme. 

I want pages that have either “george smith” OR “smith george” and then add in the phrase “new york” and the word genealogy:

Check out Google’s Advanced Search Page to find out more tricks to help you narrow down your web searches.  Let me know if you find anything interesting or come up with a new technique.

Happy Searching!

Ancestry Anne

1940 New York: Why didn’t I learn from 1930?

My Italian grandfather, Lou Ventura, was the easiest of my four grandparents to find in the 1930 census.

My other family lines had name changes, missing years, countries and hometowns I could never pronounce and that didn’t seem to remain the same over the course of any two decades. They had elusive documents I could never find, immigration dates and spouses that were always in flux.

Lou, though, was easy. It only took me two years to find him (I’m at seven years and counting on another grandparent). The delay was caused by a simple spelling error of the census taker in 1930.

In the five years since my discovery of Lou in 1930, I’ve also found his naturalization record, which included his birth date, when and where he and his first wife married, his hometown, an old photo, and his signature, which I recognized from birthday cards he’d sent when I was a kid. And I found his address, which led me to a current photo of the apartment house in which my mom was born, a place even she wasn’t aware of.

I totally knew everything about this guy. Except for why he wasn’t showing up in New York in 1940.

New York, New York – it’s a wonderful town.

There are benefits to having family that spent time in a large city like New York. You can easily learn more about New York via history books (try to find something written about the town I live in now — it’s all of 1,000 people, as large as it’s ever been). And you’re always just an e-mail, message board or phone call away from someone else who is researching the same ethnic group in the same community.

In this case, I found a coworker who was doing a bit of New York research herself. I told her I was sure Lou must have been living in New Jersey or working as a merchant marine in 1940. That’ when this coworker offered her help. I sent her a few details about Lou and waited for her to confirm he wasn’t there.

But she didn’t. Instead, she had the nerve to find him for me. And when I looked at his 1940 census record, I realized that Lou, once again, had fallen victim to a census taker who couldn’t spell his name.

I learned a lot from that record – Lou was living as a lodger on West 30th Street, he was still married, although the scratch marks make me wonder how accurate this is. I learned he had three years of high school, was working on the electric railroad, which I assume means streetcars.

But mostly I learned that I should have learned my lesson from 1930. I should have thought to change a few of the vowels in Lou’s last name.

Next time. I promise.

Jeanie Croasmun