Understanding the 1940 Census

by Julie Hill

Posted on May 4, 2012

It's been one month since the release of the 1940 census. Whether you've found family members on the National Archives website at 1940census.archives.gov or found them here on Archives.com using the growing number of indexes we have available, you might wonder what some things in the census mean.

Here we'd like to answer some common questions to help you more easily find your family, and better understand these records.

The "X" In a Circle or In Parentheses:
The circled X or an X in parentheses shows who gave the enumerator the information for the household. This can help you judge the accuracy of the answers.

"Ab" After a Name:
"Ab" isn't an unusual middle name. It's an abbreviation for "absent." The person normally lived there, but happened to be somewhere else temporarily. They could have been on vacation or away at school.

In this household in Monte Vista, Rio Grande County, Colorado, we see that Zola, the wife, gave the information to the enumerator. Daughter Joan normally lived there, but was absent.

1940household-small.jpg "Same House" and "Same Place":
Because of the massive amount of migration within the United States during the Great Depression, the Census Bureau decided to measure it on the 1940 census. Questions 17, 18, and 19 asked where the person was living in 1935. If the person lived in the exact same house in 1935 as they did in 1940, the enumerator was to record "Same House." If the person lived in the same town, but a different house, they were to record "Same Place."

Sometimes you will see "R" or "Rural" as the answer to city of residence in 1935. This means that the person was living in a rural area or a town/village of less than 2,500 people.

"M 7" as a Marital Status:
The Census Bureau did statistical analysis after the census was taken and wrote some of their codes on the census pages. Sometimes you will see "M 7" as a marital status. The enumerator wrote "M," meaning the person was married. The code "7" was written in later to show that the person did not have a spouse living with them. (This could have been for any number of reasons, including the spouse was working elsewhere or had abandoned the household, or the enumerator was wrong or was lied to.)

In this household in Eureka, Greenwood County, Kansas, Lillie Lazzers was recorded as being married. However, there is no spouse living in the household; a Census Bureau worker later added the "7" to code it for statistical purposes.

1940-m7-small.jpg Wages and the Home's Value:
Information about the value of the home (column 5) and wages (columns 32 and 33) were given by whomever the enumerator spoke with. The accuracy of this information should be weighed against who gave the information as well as the possibility that they may not have told the truth. (Would you want to tell a stranger how much you made last year?)

Why Does It Skip to Page 61A:
Sometimes you'll see what appears to be a huge gap in the page numbers. For example, it might go from page 18B to page 61A. Any households that were missed on the first pass were picked up on a second pass; those households were enumerated beginning on page 61A.

Other Codes:
Be certain to read the codes about education, citizenship, race, and military service at the bottom of the census page. You will also find explanations about employment and wages there.

More 1940 Census Indexes Coming!
We are proud to be a part of the 1940 U.S. Census Community Project (the1940census.com). Volunteers have been working tirelessly to create an every-name index for this wonderful resource. We will post more updates here and on our 1940 Census page at Archives.com/1940census. Stay tuned!

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