It only happens every 12 years and April 2nd 2012 is the date! It's the release of the 1940 census, which, for the first time will be released digitally, enumerating the 132 million people living in the United States in 1940. Those over 72 years old will be able to find themselves listed, and the rest of us will likely find at least our parents or grandparents. Do you know where your ancestors lived in 1940? Here's the challenge... although the digital images will be online at 9 a.m. on April 2nd, there will be no index. In order to find your ancestors you will need to know where they lived and be able to convert that information into an Enumeration District (ED). The National Archives has prepared a Getting Started document for the 1940 population schedule to help.
If you know the address, you can use the Steve Morse Unified 1940 Census ED Finder. You put in the state, county and town, then the address and cross streets (which you can view on a map) and get the ED. If you ancestor lived in the same location as in the 1930 census, you can also input the 1930 ED and have it converted. Once you find the ED, you'll need to search the old fashioned way, page by page, until you find your ancestor.
As soon as the images are released, there are a number of indexing projects kicking off. The largest is a volunteer effort with Archives.com, FamilySearch, FindMyPast.com and others and you can help. I would encourage you to go to the1940census.com and volunteer to help. Using the software from FamilySearch Indexing you can assist with the project. If you haven't indexed before, there are online tutorials as well as webinars to help you get started as well as practice documents. It's not difficult and you can fit indexing into your schedule in small increments of time. When you sign up, they will even ask you what state you would like to index...you might even find your family before the indexes are released!
So what's new in the 1940 census? Like earlier censuses you will find the location information, names of all of the individuals in the household, the relationship of each individual to the head of household, place of birth of each individual, (but not of parents), citizenship and occupation. But there are some additional columns such as residence in 1935, highest grade of school completed and income. For the first time we will know which household member provided the information to the census taker (they were instructed to put an "X" after the name of the person providing the information). On each page of the census, the person enumerated on line 14 and line 29 will be required to provide supplemental information, including the birth place of their parents, veteran status, whether they had a social security number, and for women, their age at first marriage and number of children born living.
There are lots of blogs and other places to get information on the 1940 census (see my Links page), and you should be preparing your lists of people to find. This is an exciting time and I encourage you to join the effort to get an index completed as soon as possible.