Local group will help index 1940 U.S. Census, encourages others to get involved

As first vice president of the Old Buncombe County Genealogical Society, Dee Gibson-Roles enjoys a good jigsaw puzzle — the thrill of getting the big picture right, the joy of solving a mystery. But on Monday April 2, she will get one of the best puzzles in 10 years. 

After dwelling in the National Archives for 72 years (and abiding by privacy laws), the 1940 U.S. Census will be made public on Monday morning. 

“A census is a snapshot of one day in time in the United States,” Gibson-Roles explains. “It puts flesh on the bones; it’s not just statistics. We’re able to understand actual people and the way they lived.”

Access to these records will be free and available to anyone online on April 2, however the 1940 U.S. Census will not be name-searchable immediately.

Well, not yet.

The Old Buncombe County Genealogical Society is one of the genealogy organizations that will be indexing the census by participating in the 1940 U.S. Census Community Project. The project is a joint initative between Archives.com, FamilySearch, findmypast.com and other genealogy organizations. However, Gibson-Roles notes that a person does not have to be a member of the Old Buncombe Genealogical Society to help index.

“Anyone can do it, and we’re really trying to get people in community to help,” she says. One reason she cites is that locals have a familiarity with the region. “For example, when other websites have done indexing, on some death certificates of people who were born in Transylvania County, these other websites will index them as being in Romania instead of North Carolina. So we’re really trying to get local people, and people who are familiar with names in this area.”

Though the records will be searchable on Monday, Gibson-Roles explains that people will need to know the state, county and enumeration district to be able to look up relatives. 

And as Gibson-Roles notes, the people are what make this census so special.

“These are the people that we call ‘the great generation.’ These folks came through the Great Depression, saw World War I, experienced the roaring ’20s, and would go off to fight in World War II. They saw the change from candles to oil lamps to electricity,” she says. “So many people are in this one.”

To help index, click here, download the indexing software and watch the video tutorials. You may also contact the Old Buncombe County Genealogical Society for more information by phone at 828-253-1894, or by e-mail at info@obcgs.com.

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