Re: 1940 Census and my family - more missing people #general

Joel Weintraub


Now that the 1940 census has been name indexed by two different and
independent groups, I'm seeing an increase in the number of inquiries here
about "missing" 1940 relatives. One recent post indicated: "I am feeling as
if there are records that have not yet been added or transcribed." Let's
discuss the "undercount" or those people that were actually missed on this
census. First, you should know that the original 1940 census forms were
destroyed decades ago. The population schedules were microfilmed, and that
master film was digitized by the National Archives and sold to the various
groups that transcribed the census. Thus every group is working >from the
same copy. I don't remember exactly, but about 50 EDs were missing >from the
master film, probably lost by the enumerator or census bureau before
filming, but that's a very small number compared to the 150,000 or so EDs
that were enumerated in 1940.

There are many reasons why people were missed. They weren't home, and did
not respond to the blank forms that the enumerator left for them to fill
out. They were residents of cities or sparse rural areas, two difficult
areas to count. The enumerator was given wrong directions and maps as to
what they were supposed to cover. The enumerator just plain made a mistake
and didn't cover one block. The individual was at college or the CCC or
some other government program and was supposed to be enumerated at their
official address (not the college or camp) and that was not clear to the
family and they were missed. And there are probably additional reasons as
well including the fact that minority groups had a high undercount.

So how many people were missed? Six months after the 1940 census was taken,
there was a mandatory draft of men of certain ages. There were fines and
prison terms if one didn't register, and many more men showed up to register
for the draft than predicted by the census itself. The estimates based on
this information, is that about 5% of the population (1 out of 20) were
missed and as many as 8% or so of African-Americans were missed on this

So... have records "not yet been added or transcribed"? I doubt it. All
the records that are available are on the digitized film gotten >from the
National Archives. In addition, we have two independent transcription
groups/indexes for the 1940 census and thus, we have a very low probability
that both groups would have "missed" a sheet >from the same ED.

As to people who are on the 1940 census that you can't find. That's a
different situation. There are a number of reasons why names don't appear
as you expect, and that's the reason why I've been working for over 10 years
on producing locational aids for finding people. But here's my method for
finding people by a name index. 1. relax your assumptions. I try to
produce 30 or 40 name results when I do a name search and I trust my ability
to have a name "jump off the page" at me that might be the target family.
2. less is more in entering information on name templates. In fact, try to
avoid entering last names, but use first names, multiple names together in
the family, birth year plus/minus 2 years at least, birth location, and
where you expect them to be. 3. use wild cards like * and ?. If you don't
know about wild cards, it's time to learn about them. Just yesterday one
member of the OCJGS asked me to find 5 "missing" families in New York city,
and I found 4 of them using the above. But remember, using name indexes
will not tell you if the person was actually missed. You can't prove a
negative with a name index. The only way to show they were missed, is to
use our locational utilities at and show that the house they
were definitely in, in 1940, was skipped during the enumeration.

Joel Weintraub
Dana Point, CA

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