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Posted on Sun. Apr. 08, 2012 - 12:01 am EDT

1940 census: Count on library to help

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FORT WAYNE — Allen County residents have some elite access to the millions of documents being released to the public this month from the 1940 U.S. Census.

The Allen County Public Library provides free access to several pay genealogical sites to help people sift through documents and locate their ancestors. It provided a class Saturday on how to best access information from the 1940 census.

Delia Bourne, who conducted the class, said the census data provide a unique look at America and its families at a time when it was climbing out of the Depression and girding for war. Unlike other historical documents, the census data aren’t limited to adults, heads of household or important figures.

“It lists everyone,” she said. “This is for everyone.”

For a while, however, finding that information will not be simple. The census documents were made available publicly on Monday, so different genealogical sites have just begun the process of indexing the glut of information.

She said for people just getting started into looking into their family’s history, it might be wise to wait the several months until all the information is easily searchable. For those who can’t wait to dive in – and Bourne is one of them – she offered some tips on how to more easily find family information.

“It’s a process,” she warned.

The keys to do this are to collect addresses where family members lived at the time by talking to older relatives, searching city directories or even armed forces enlistment papers. Even with all the information, she warned that some of the census information won’t be fully accurate, as names are misspelled and some census takers admitted to simply guessing what the information should be for some families. Bourne noted her aunt even lied about where she was born because she thought it would look better at the time.

Other than a person’s name, family, gender and race, the 1940 census also asked for a person’s place of birth, whether that person was currently working and whether that person had signed up for the government’s relatively new Social Security program.

Elaine Miller, 43, of Fort Wayne, attended the class to try to learn more about the census. She said she is a big fan of genealogy, having previously discovered that her husband’s family came from the Mayflower and her ancestors included objectors to the American Revolution.

“It’s like a big mystery, a big puzzle to solve,” she said of genealogy.

Bourne said all of the library’s computers offer free access to sites, such as, although the computers in the genealogy center have no time limit as long as patrons are doing genealogy work.

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