Before you go out using an coupon code to research your family’s roots, you should know that DNA testing is so much more convenient…and affordable.

Even if you’re thinking of using coupons to travel to your ancestral homeland, these tests can throw a wrench into who you thought you were.

It seems like genealogy and researching one’s ancestry has become more than just a casual hobby for a few enthusiasts. DNA kits are everywhere. And they are affordable: a coupon makes these tests so affordable and easy that it’s almost irresistible to at least give it a try. But there’s an even cheaper way to research your family’s history: the 1940 U.S. census.

How to Search the 1940 Census for Information Online

The United States government has recently made the entire 1940 census available to the public for the first time.  It can be viewed online by anyone with an internet connection.  Details of the 1940 census results were available before but the data from individual households is kept private for 72 years.  For anyone who is interested in their family history the release of these documents should prove to be very exciting.

Within three hours of the 1940 census being released online the National Archives website had already received 22.5 million hits.  Though officials had anticipated the release of the 1940 census gaining a lot of attention, this sort of traffic volume proved more than they could initially handle and the website crashed several times its first day.  Fortunately, officials involved with the National Archives are busy adding additional capacity and will likely solve any problems that people are having reaching the site within a short period of time.

The household details of the 1940 census provide a rare glimpse into everyday life for Americans at a time when they were still at war and only just emerging from the Great Depression.  If you want to know more about how your grandparents or your great grandparents lived at the time the 1940 census is a great source of information.

Can You Search For a Person By Name?

For now, it’s not possible to search for any person by name, but you can still find them if you know where they were living in 1940.  If you don’t already know the address you might be able to find it by looking at old birth certificates or marriage records.  Many personal documents might contain a person’s address and a look through your family’s records could help you find it.

Once you have an address it’s possible to look up the enumeration district for that address.  In order to conduct the 1940 census the government broke up the country into 147,000 separate districts that were each managed by a separate census agent who went door to door collecting information.  The National Archives website has provided detailed instructions on finding the enumeration number once you’ve already obtained an address.

Once you have the enumeration number you can look under its entry in the 1940 census records to see the details of the household you’re interested in.  The personal information contained in the 1940 census includes items such as a family’s income and where they were employed at the time.  The early 1940s were a transition time in America and many people and their families were at a crossroads in their lives.

The domestic life of the 1940s is sometimes overlooked, as many people focus on the war and events abroad.  The 1940s were also a time of much change at home, however, as the country adjusted to new social currents and renewed economic growth.  Many women entered the workplace for the first time due to the war, and the 1940 census should provide insight into this and other similar phenomena.

Many Americans moved for the first time in their lives in order to take advantage of new jobs that were finally appearing after the depression.  The 1940s census should prove to be filled with personal details on the flux of American life during this period.  Often it happens that some of the more personal details of a person’s early life become obscured by the larger picture of who they became later.

By looking closely at the household details of the 1940 census it should be possible to learn a great deal more about your relatives and other people you find important.  The 1940 census was meant to be simply an impersonal means of collecting data.  With the release of the household details from the 1940 census, however, the results should prove meaningful for people who have a personal stake in the data.

The first American census was taken in 1790 under the authority of then Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson.  A census has been taken every ten years since.  The results are used to decide the allocation of congressional seats and electoral votes as well as the funding of certain government programs.  Though the census is undertaken for practical reasons, it has also been discovered to have much in the way of personal significance for Americans after its results are released.  The 1940 census should prove no exception to this.

Our personal histories are often reflected in surprising ways in the data that we leave behind us, such as our income, or who we were married to, or how many children we had in any year.  The 1940 census is in many ways a time capsule that with its release should allow many Americans a closer connection with their past and where they came from.  1940 was a unique time in America and the personal history of many families was being forever shaped into something very different than it had been before.

Investigating the 1940 census for yourself has the potential of being a very rewarding experience and thanks to the release of its data online it has never been more convenient.  The 1940 census should eventually be searchable by name, as the Archives officials are working with a team of volunteers to make this available as soon as possible.  This is the first release of its kind from the National Archives and it’s likely that the experience should become more user friendly as time goes on.

The degree of excitement over the 1940 census has caught some people by surprise, but what it shows is that the past is still very important to many Americans.  The history of our families has immediate relevance for our own lives as we seek to understand more about ourselves and how we came to be where we are.  As the writer William Faulkner put it “The past is never dead.  It’s not even past.”