World gets a blast from the past with release of 1940s Census records

I've always wished that I could have the chance to peek into the past, just to get a feel for what it was like. On Monday, the whole nation got that opportunity when detailed information from the 1940 census was released online.

The occasion marked the first time that historic records have ever been made available on the web and over 22 million people took to their computer to get a look. Just minutes after it's launch, the overwhelming response crashed the 1940 census portal on the National Archives and Record administration website, allowing only some people to get access. Others had to wait long hours or were unable to get on at all.

The lucky ones, however, were able to examine the nearly 4 million images of handwritten census pages, which includes information about where people from that decade lived, as well as their names, addresses, marital statuses, number of children, and occupations. 


Records from a decennial census become public every 10 years, as soon as the government's legally mandated 72-year waiting period expires. But the release of the 1940 documents has been even more highly anticipated than usual, largely because they are searchable online and easier for everyone--from historians to the everyday curious--to investigate. Currently, enhancements to the site are being made to make it more easily availabe to everyone. 

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Being a journalist, I'm naturally interested in discovering any new information but combine that with my love for history and this release is like a dream come true! Though some have concerns about privacy issues (since about 21 million of the approximately 132 million Americans counted in 1940 are still alive), I personally have a hard time seeing any cons.

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I think it's amazing that these records can provide such a wealth of fascinating data, the likes the present world hasn't yet been able to get their hands on. And they give historians, genealogists, and even families a great opportunity fill in any present gaps and get a more complete picture of that era. Imagine finding information about one of your relatives! Pretty amazing if you ask me.

What do you think of the release? Will you take a look at the online records?

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