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Open Thread Thursday: What Has The 1940 Census Meant for the Genealogy Industry?

open thread

This week’s topic for Open Thread Thursday is:

Now that the release of the 1940 US Census images is almost three weeks old, perhaps it is time we take a minute or two to ponder what the release means to the genealogy industry and the genealogy community.

Post your responses in the comments or at a post on your own genealogy blog and place the link here in the comments.

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I’ve already written about what I think the 1940 Census means to the genealogy community over on the 1940 US Census Community Project blog (read the article here). Below are some further thoughts on the subject . . .

The 1940 Census and Community

One only has to look to the current volunteer indexing efforts for the 1940 Census to see how a community can come together behind an effort that benefits not just the genealogy field but the public.  In fact, several tech media sites and blogs have discussed this concept of enlisting people to help index data sets. I think this is the wave of the future which the Community Project partners (, FamilySearch,, and National Archives) have helped publicize.

The 1940 Census and Crowdsourcing

One aspect of the release which I was very happy to see was how various genealogy vendors took to social media to publicize the release.  Using blogs, Facebook, Twitter and other tools takes careful planning and can also bring unpredictable results. In the case of the 1940 Census,  we’ve seen many “non-genealogists” search for 1940 Census images for their own home, apartment building or block. This focus may not have been anticipated, but many vendors and others were able to capitalize upon the opportunity to bring these “spectators” into the world of genealogy.

For me this is the key: recognizing possibilities as well as opportunities and leveraging them. Leveraging not just to sell your own business, but also for “good” and to promote genealogy. In the future I think we’ll see much more of this. Can you anticipate every possibility in terms of how a concept will take off via social media?  No . . . but what you can plan for is this: be ready to react, to welcome people and to sell the concept.

The 1940 Census and Opportunists

Unfortunately, the hucksters and opportunists capitalized upon the 1940 Census frenzy as well.  It seems that no matter what – even with a major disaster – these folks will be there to spread misinformation and outright scam folks. What to do?  One approach is to just “stay on message” and focus on the positive.  Another is to help the newcomers by providing them links to tools such as Steve Morse’s One-Step site. decided to promote the #1940census hashtag on Twitter on Tuesday, April 3, 2012, which was good, bad and ugly. Good because it brought added focus to the 1940 Census images and many folks in our community stepped in to answer questions. Bad because with increased focus come the opportunists (see below).  Soon everyone was using #1940census to sell anything and everything from fake Rolex watches to  . . . well, you can only imagine. And the ugly: who knew there was so many clueless people – especially young people – who couldn’t understand why #1940census was “trending” on Twitter.

Also, one approach I’ve taken is to not only put out warning signals to the community via social media about fake sites and scam links, but also confront those who are being less-than-honest about the 1940 Census image release. We should all be committed to keeping the genealogy and family history field one that is safe, family-friendly and welcoming.

The 1940 Census as a Welcome Mat

Perhaps three weeks out is too short a time to do any meaningful “looking back,” but here is what I see as the main success of the 1940 Census: The genealogy community came together to put out a new welcome mat to those new to the field.  As I’ve said before, growth of the genealogy biz will only happen if we look not only to spruce up the welcome mats currently in use, but also try new ones when appropriate.


This is a great topic for this week’s Open Thread Thursday! And please, if you have a topic you’d like to see discussed among your genealogy blogging colleagues, please contact us and we’ll take it under consideration.

Disclosure:  Please see Disclosure Statements for more information on my material connection with genealogy vendors and organizations.

©2012, copyright Thomas MacEntee

One thought on “Open Thread Thursday: What Has The 1940 Census Meant for the Genealogy Industry?

  1. What I’m pleased about, is that genealogists realized that locational tools to search the census are not as difficult or arcane or obsolete as one might think. Before the census opened, there were a number of bloggers that basically said, they would wait for a name index. But the apparent ease that genealogists are finding 1940 addresses and locations hiding in their “shoeboxes” of documents, and their apparent success rates at finding target families, brought even the doubters to the locational search strategy camp. I’m hopeful they take a look at doing similar searches for previous census years for their brick wall families on the One-Step site.

    Joel Weintraub
    Dana Point, CA

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