The Unites States Government is set to release the 1940 census in less than one week. On April 2nd, at 9am Eastern Time, everyone will be able to go to http://1940census.archives.gov/ and access the census’ fully digitized data for free. Increasing news coverage and web countdowns belie the mounting anticipation around the country, but what exactly does all this excitement mean?
The National Archives provides background on the project in a video here: http://www.1940census.archives.gov/ . It describes how 6 people spent 3 months going through about 3.9 million images to transform enormous amounts of paper forms into digital data. The video also describes how the original census data was collected, and the fascinating span of US history it covers.
FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/1940census) and Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com/1940-census) are among the genealogy sites excited for the release of this data. One can see the value of this data not just to those interested in their own family’s history, but to researchers and historians spanning many subject areas.
Here at Captricity, we’re quite fascinated by the building excitement surrounding the census’ release. It shows on one hand that people still care deeply about “old” data. It also shows how important the act of digitization is to making archived paper data widely accessible to the public. We wonder whether this release will bring a renewed interest in digitizing historic data, and are also looking forward to seeing all the fascinating and innovative uses people find for this invaluable information.
At the same time, we’ve thought a lot about privacy, and wonder whether the release of this data will raise any concerns. Many people enumerated in that census are still alive today. While no one can search by name, simply knowing where someone lived can allow one to hone in on the information for that specific “enumeration district,” typically a quite compact area. Is even this too specific?
We’d love to know what you think, and look forward to following the story as it unfolds in the months following April 2nd.