Guide To Finding Your Black Family On The 1940 U.S. Census
1 year ago
Simply knowing the town where your ancestors lived may not be enough
Hughes. Battles. Moore. Youngblood. Harper…
I didn’t find my grandfather, George Gray Murray, in the 1940 U.S. Census documents associated with Forest, Miss., which I scrolled through electronically, hoping to stumble upon his name and the names of his seven siblings.
My grandfather would have been around age 19 at the time of that census and had likely moved out of his parents’ home, my mother suggested. She didn’t know for sure.
After eyeing what seemed like thousands of names on more than 100 pages for the rural Mississippi town, I realized just how specific I had to be to find my relatives. An instructional video produced by the National Archives – which made the census records public on Monday -- stresses the importance of knowing (or finding) the exact “enumerated district number,” or ED, for the city, town or nook my family may have been counted in.
But there are other things to consider -- things that are specific to the experience of African Americans, during that period in time.
My grandfather may not have been in Forest at all in 1940. As a young man, he worked in a Mississippi shipyard on the Gulf Coast. That's where the jobs were. If I were going to find him, he’d likely be in Pascagoula with his lifelong friend and then-roommate Willie Wigham. Five years later, he’d marry my grandmother, Lottie Belle Lawrence.
In my first attempt at viewing the census, I didn’t go away completely empty-handed. More on that later…
Here’s a list of five things you should know before you search for your family:
1. Find the enumerated district number(s) of the town your family lived in.
In the Archives’ instructional video, a rather nice woman advises searching their website for the ED. As much as I claim to be an experienced journalist, I could not find where on their website to do the search. Through Google, I stumbled upon Stephen Morse’s and Joel Weintraub’s “Unified 1940 Census ED Finder.” They’ve scripted a form that asks for the state, county and city or town you’re looking for. My search yielded four ED numbers. It was quick.
2. Know your relatives’ government names, not their nicknames or middle names.