The National Archives announced they will release detailed information on 132 million people in the 1940 U.S. Census after 72 years of confidentially expires on Monday.
The census records will include names, addresses, income and employment information along with personal data of Americans surveyed during that time. Over 21 million people alive in the U.S. and Puerto Rico who are alive today, were counted and surveyed during the 16th federal decennial census, reported the Associated Press. The census is particularly interesting for thousands of researchers and genealogists because the period covers the difficult decade of 1930s that saw the Great Depression and the black migration from the southern United States to the North, reported the AP.
We're talking about a snapshot of the 'Greatest Generation' before they went off to war, said Thomas MacEntee, a geology analyst and educator, reported Twin Cities Pioneer Press.
The records will be free and open to anyone with Internet connection. Access to the records can be found here.
In previous years, individuals were forced to wait on long lines in D.C. and wait their turn to view the data on microfilms. However, the records are not searchable by name. Still the government expects tens of thousands across the country to investigate their parents, grandparents and even themselves.
But if manually searching through the articles is too difficult for some people, experts suggest waiting six to 12 months. Several genealogy organizations have elected to build an index that will allow people to search through the 132 million records by name and city.
You get a special feeling when you actually see your family on the census, said Paula Stuart-Warren, who has traced her ancestors back through previous census data, reported Twin Cities Pioneer Press.
However, not everyone approves of the release of the data. The American Civil Liberties Union has opposed unrestricted access and release of census records from the past 30 years.
Computer technology today allows you to take information from different sources and combine it into a very high resolution image of somebody's life, said Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst at the ACLU, according to the AP. Each particular piece of information might just be one pixel. But when brought together, they become very intrusive.
However, the Census Bureau responded to to the criticisms saying that the information cannot used against individuals because birth-dates and Social Security numbers were not be included in the records. In the 1940s, individuals were asked if they had a Social Security number, but were not asked to give the number itself.
The National Archives also said that they do not believe there will be any privacy concerns and that they are unaware of any concerns from the public.
Robert Gellman, a privacy consultant said he doubted the records would be useful to potential identity thieves since obtaining confidential information is not that difficult thanks to the Internet.
There's nobody out there complaining about 70-year-old records being used against them, he said, according to the AP.
However, individuals appear to be excited to investigate their past, regardless of any criticisms.
Unless somebody has left a diary or journal or excellent photo album, you don't have that picture of the household, Stuart-Warren said. So for a lot of us, it's only the census that can do that.