Have you watched episodes of Who Do You Think You Are? on The Learning Channel (TLC), or Genealogy Roadshow on PBS? Have you wondered if you could find out more about your grandparents, great grandparents, aunts and uncles, and other ancestors?
It’s a good time to start such research these days because so much information is available on the Internet (and no, you can’t just look up a complied ancestry report on the Internet—you still have to do the research one record at a time).
Here’s an idea to try your hand: Search for somebody who was alive at the time of the 1940 U.S. Census. Here’s how you can do it without incurring any expense. Type in the person’s name and 1940 Census in a Google Search window. If the person has a common surname or family name, it helps to add the name of the city or village or township, and state, where they lived, in the search window. Google immediately will search through the 1940 census database of Ancestry.com and display any “hits” it finds.
Now Ancestry.com is a subscription database, but it has allowed Google to index every name in its 1940 census database. So Google searches Ancestry’s total 1940 census database for the person you are looking for and brings up a list of “hits.”
When you click on a “hit,” what you will see is the transcribed record for the person you searched for. You have the option of looking at the actual census record if you register for a free account, giving you name and email address and creating a password. Ancestry.com allows you to create this free account because they want to follow up with you and send you offers by email.
If you don’t want to do this, you can go to your local library, which probably pays a subscription so patrons can use Ancestry Library Edition—for free. When you access Ancestry Library Edition at the library, you can search for far more information than what appears in the 1940 census.
At the library, you can learn if your person appeared in earlier censuses (the 1940 census is the most recent available to the public). In many cases, you can find birth and death information, details of immigration, military service, and so on and on. You then can print out copies of the records you find and share them with family members.
If you don’t find your person in the 1940 census, don’t despair. The person indexing the record may have misspelled the names he or she was seeing on the record. Try different spellings of surnames and even given names. Use a nickname. Change the locality where you think the person lived. In other words, use different search terms. If you strike out with one name, try others from among your relaitves alive in 1940.
Try it! We think you’ll like it.