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Examiner
  • Release of 1940 census creates buzz at Genealogy Center

  • In 1940, the 132 million people who called the United States home were called to help the 10-year roll call.

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  • In 1940, the 132 million people who called the United States home were called to help the 10-year roll call.
    “It’s your America!” the posters proclaimed. Respondents were asked their name, age, gender, race, education and place of birth, of course.
    But new, interesting questions also were posed: Where were they living five years earlier, in 1935? How much money did they make in 1939? Had they worked for the Civilian Conservation Corps, Works Project Administration or National Youth Administration during the week of March 24 through 30, 1940?
    At 8 a.m. Central Daylight Time Monday, hundreds of thousands of people logged onto 1940census.archives.gov to learn these details – and in some cases, solve the mysteries – of their loved ones that remained hidden from the public’s eye for 72 years.
    The Midwest Genealogy Center in Independence opened its doors to patrons at 6 a.m. Monday – three hours ahead of normal business hours – for an orientation on the release at 8 a.m.
    When the hour came, one library staff member said, “Scream when you’ve found your first person.”
    “Is it OK to scream in a library?” one patron responded.
    On Monday, it would have been, but no screaming took place before the doors for normal business opened at 9 a.m.
    Several hours of waiting took place because the website experienced extraordinary demand with people all across the country trying to access the same information at the same time.
    Kathi Graham of Lee’s Summit and her husband, Bob, took the day off of work Monday just for the 1940 release. Bob has done genealogy research since age 17. Kathi started a couple of years ago after one of her mother’s biological cousins sent her mother photographs, “and it just started the ball rolling,” Kathi said.
    The 1940 census marks the first on which Kathi’s mother, Betty Mansell, is recorded, but her childhood story is a tricky – and oftentimes, a sensitive – one.
    “Yeah, I figure we just really should write a book,” Kathi says.
    Betty was born in 1935. Her memory keeps telling her that she left her biological family in 1939 at age 4 despite court records that placed her with another family that are dated 1941. The recent release of census records might fill in the gaps, Kathi said, as her mother, now 77, isn’t sure where she was living in 1940.
    “I think it will help my mother,” Kathi said. “One of her concerns she expressed when I said I was coming to do this was, ‘What if they didn’t count me?’”
    Betty may have been born in Oak Grove, according to Kathi’s genealogical research. Her brother died of tuberculosis at age 10, when Betty was 3. As a result, Betty and her younger sister were placed in separate foster homes. The two sisters saw each other from time to time as their childhood years passed, but Betty’s sister never knew the two were related then. The sisters stayed in communication in their adult years, this time both of them knowing they were biologically connected.
    Page 2 of 2 - “If you see the two,” Kathi said, “there’s no doubt that they’re related.”  
    There are other bits of information that Kathi wished to not share for publication, but what matters most is that the Independence native spent a vast majority of Monday on a treasure hunt. She woke up at 3 a.m., left the Genealogy Center at 11 a.m. after the census website remained frozen and traveled to Levasy. There, the search continued for any records because Kathi knew her mother had lived there for a time after her brother died.
    “Good thing I took off the whole day,” Kathi said, laughing, at about 9 a.m. “We’ve waited already. We’re just going to wait a little longer.”
    Others at the Genealogy Center included Janell Vasquez, a Blue Springs-based employee of FamilySearch.org. Volunteers from sites like FamilySearch will index the entire 1940 census records and corresponding images, which will be made available for free to the public.
    FamilySearch is working with archives.com and findmypast.com to get the 1940 census records indexed and made available through searches within six months from Monday, using all volunteers.
    Tens of millions of people who lived in the U.S. in 1940 are still alive, meaning that younger generations are able to connect with them in a new way through these previously unreleased records, officials say.
    General census statistics are released every 10 years, but for 72 years, detailed responses and personally identifiable information about individuals are kept secret by the National Archives and Records Administration. The National Archives had released the 1930 records in April 2002.
    But 2002 was different, said Midwest Genealogy librarian Janice Schultz. Those records were released on microfilm and then bit by bit, they were digitized.
    “I think there’s just more hype with this one because automatically, it’s supposed to be available,” Schultz said.
    Despite the long waits caused by technological traffic jams, most of the staff and patrons Monday morning were all smiles.
    “For these people,” said Steve Potter, director of the Mid-Continent Public Library system, “this is the equivalent to the release of a Harry Potter movie or the newest version of the iPad.”
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