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Genealogical bonanza: 1940 Census records released


  • Reading Eagle Press
  • W E E U
  • Reading Eagle Company

NEW YORK – When the 1940 Census records were released Monday, Verla Morris could consider herself a part of living history.

Morris, 99, experienced the novelty of seeing her own name and details about her life in the records being released by the U.S. National Archives online after 72 years of confidentiality expires.

Morris is one of more than 21 million people alive in the U.S. and Puerto Rico who were counted in the 16th federal decennial census.

It’s a distinction she shares with such living celebrities as Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman.

Morris, who has been working on her family history since 1969 and has written six books on its branches, said census records were essential for her genealogical work because people often don’t want to give their personal information.

“Lots of times I just have to wait until maybe they die,” she said. “Then I’ll have all their information.”

But census records, which include names, addresses and – in the case of the 1940 Census, income and employment information – are rich with long-veiled personal details.

Morris, who turns 100 in August and was contacted through the National Centenarian Awareness Project, said she was working as a keypunch operator in Fairfield, Ill., when the 1940 Census was taken. She doesn’t remember providing her information.

While a name index was not immediately available, tens of thousands of researchers across the country are expected to go on a monumental genealogical hunt this week through the digitized records for details on 132 million people.

Access to the records will be free and open to anyone on the Internet.

Every decade since 1942, the National Archives has made available records from past censuses. Some privacy advocates have opposed releasing such large amounts of personal information about living people.

The American Civil Liberties Union, for instance, has for over 30 years opposed any unrestricted release of census records.

Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst at the ACLU, said harm could come from combining the rich 1940 Census data with other information.

A document obtained from the National Archives shows that in 2010 the U.S. Census Bureau raised privacy concerns about the disclosure of the 1940 Census.

Bureau spokesman Robert Bernstein said in an email no birth dates or Social Security numbers would be in the records, alleviating any fears the data could be used for identity theft against anyone living.

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