Because of privacy laws that protect identifying information for 72 years, the 1940 Census is the most recent census in which records can be researched in detail.
The sixteenth United States Census officially began on April 1, 1940 and took just over a month to complete. The total population recorded was 132,164,569. The official cutoff for enumeration was 12:01 a.m. on April 1. Therefore, births that occurred after this date were not included.
1940 Census Facts
1940 Census Number: 132,164,569
1940 Census Day: April 1, 1940
1940 Census duration: 1 month
1940 Census States: 48 States
1940 Census Territories: Alaska, Hawaii, American Samoa, the Canal Zone, Guam, Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands
Unique Features of the 1940 Census
Click to View Sample from US 1940 Census of Dawson County, TX
The 1940 Census contained some questions that were not asked of every person counted. These extra questions were only asked of about one of every twenty people to provide a data sample.
The 1940 census categorized government workers as either “private or non-emergency government” employees or those who performed “public emergency work.” Public emergency work included employees of the Works Progress Administration, Civilian Conservation Corps, and the National Youth Administration.
The top five foreign countries listed as a birthplace were Italy, Germany, Russia, Poland, and England.
New York was the most commonly listed birth state.
The average household size enumerated in the 1940 census was 3.7 people.
Two women tied for the oldest person in the census: both Mary Dilworth of Oxford, Mississippi, and Cándido Vega Y Torres of Guayama, Puerto Rico, listed their ages as 119.
Mary and John were the most common given names appearing in the 1940 census.
The top five surnames in the 1940 census were Smith, Johnson, Brown, Williams, and Jones.
More than 850,000 people reported living in hotels or similar housing.
Historical Considerations of the 1940 Census
The 1940 census recorded the urbanization of America with great detail. One question asked where the person lived 5 years prior and whether or not it was on a farm. Workers were categorized by occupation, industry, and class. Perhaps one of the most revealing indications of urbanization was the recording of persons who lived in “hotels, tourist or trailer camps, missions, and cheap one-night lodging houses (flophouses).”
Women were given more attention in the 1940 census. The enumerators asked women if they had been married more than one time, their age at their first marriage, and how many times they had given birth.
States Covered in the 1940 Census
The 1940 census covered the 48 states as well as Alaska, Hawaii, American Samoa, Guam, the Panama Canal, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.
1940 Census Map
1940 Census Resources
Visit the following resources for more information about the 1940 Census: