MaryLou Brigley feels like a kid right before Christmas these days.
She has been documenting her family tree for decades, since she first started recording old family stories shared by her older relatives, her mother, her aunts and uncles, older cousins.
As time went on, she sifted through dusty courthouse records, family memorabilia, and then, later, images stored and shared electronically over the internet. Birth and death records, marriage certificates, censuses — all contributing to the identification of who her relatives were.
But on Monday, April 2, something will happen that has never happened before. Her name will appear on a census.
The United States census, taken every ten years, names everyone living on the day the census taker would circulate through any particular neighborhood or enumeration district, as it is officially called. Since 1930, that day was April 1. Federal law restricts the release of detailed census information for 72 years.
On April 2, the 1940 Census will be released and Brigley, like many other family historians, amateur and professional alike, can’t wait. “I’m looking forward to that,” Brigley said.
While politeness prohibited inquiring about Brigley’s exact age, she did confirm she was born sometime during the 1930s and so was too young to be included in the 1930 census. But when the census taker came around in 1940, little MaryLou was counted along with the rest of her family in Moonachie.
Many share Brigley’s excitement but Elizabeth Cronin, Coordinator for Information Services for the Ocean County Library in Toms River, advised caution against undue expectations for those hoping to find their relatives in the census. At least, at first.
“The census might be a bit of a disappointment because it won’t be indexed by name when it’s released,” she explained.
As the library’s head reference librarian and an amateur genealogist, Cronin explained why many might be frustrated at first.
With easy access found on many genealogy web sites, many amateurs expect to type in a relative’s name and find all sorts of information. Eventually, the 1940 census will be included but the work of indexing the raw information will be done by thousands of volunteers around the world. And it will take time as there are more than 132 million people included in that census.
In the mean time, one’s relatives can still be found but just a little more old-fashioned sleuthing may be required.
Ginger Grove, Director of the Family History Center at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Toms River, explained knowing where a relative lived in 1940 will be key as census takers worked in geographic neighborhoods. While Brigley’s search probably won’t be too difficult since Moonachie was, and is, a small borough in Bergen County, her cousins from Jersey City might have a more difficult time considering the larger population but it still should not be too daunting if they know where they and their relatives were living in 1940.
Grove suggested those hoping to find relatives from 1940 start by making a list of all family members alive at the time and where they were living. And then, start looking.
Debbie Lawton, President of the Ocean County Genealogical Society, agreed that many of her members are also cautiously excited about the release of the 1940 Census. But she was also excited about exposing a new generation of researchers to the excitement of discovery.
The 1940 Census will include standard information common to most censuses taken since 1850 such as age and place of birth. This census also asked where folks lived on April 1, 1935. “That’s really exciting,” Cronin explained, “because they were trying to map migration patterns during the Great Depression.”
The 1940 Census also contained supplemental questions, asked of the people listed on lines 14 and 29. The supplemental questions, forming a mini-genealogical treasure trove of sorts, asked for the places of birth of both parents and the language spoken at home “in earliest childhood,” especially important for immigrant families.
Many web sites are organizing the volunteer effort to index the names included on the census; some are free, such as familysearch.org, others are accessible on a subscription basis, such as ancestry.com.
Many resources are available to local residents looking to get started in tracing their family trees.
The Family History Center at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormon Church, on Freehold Road has access to millions of records and is available to all, regardless of religious affiliation. While the collection has been stored on microfilm, many of the records have been digitized and are accessible at familysearch.org.
The Ocean County Library has access to many data bases free to library card holders. Access to heritagequest.com is available at home; access to the library edition of ancestry.com is limited to library computers. Both can be invaluable.
The Ocean County Genealogical Society charges annual dues but guests are welcome to attend monthly meetings held the 1st Wednesday of each month March through December in the Home Town Dairy Room of the Ocean County Library in Toms River. Research is not limited to Toms River, or even New Jersey.
For more information on the 1940 Census, visit the US Census Bureau. For more information about finding out about your family’s roots, call or visit the Ocean County Library at 732-379-6200, the Family History Center at 732-349-5947 or the Ocean County Genealogical Society.