Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Today, U.S. census data from 1940 will be a click away

When the 1940 census records are released today on the Internet, Verla Morris can consider herself a part of living history.

Morris, who is in her 100th year, will get to experience the novelty of seeing her own name and details about her life in the records being released by the U.S. National Archives online after 72 years of confidentiality expires.

"I'd be happy to see it there," she said. "I don't think anything could surprise me, really."

Morris is one of more than 21 million people alive in the United States and Puerto Rico who were counted in the 16th federal decennial census, which documents the tumultuous decade of the 1930s transformed by the Great Depression and black migration from the rural South. It's a distinction she shares with such celebrities as Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman.

Morris, who has been working on her family history since 1969 and has written six books on its branches, said census records were essential for her genealogical work because oftentimes people don't want to give their personal information.

"Lots of times I just have to wait until maybe they die," she said. "Then I'll have all their information."

But census records, which include names, addresses and — in the case of the 1940 census, income and employment information — are rich with long-veiled personal details.

Morris, who turns 100 in August and was contacted through the National Centenarian Awareness Project, said she was working as a keypunch operator in Fairfield, Ill., when the 1940 census was taken. "I don't remember them taking my census," said Morris, who lives in Chandler, Ariz.

While a name index will not be immediately available to search, tens of thousands of researchers across the country are expected to go on a monumental genealogical hunt this week through the digitized records for details on 132 million people. Access to the records will be free and open to anyone on the Internet.

Every decade since 1942, the National Archives has made available records from past censuses. Some privacy advocates have opposed releasing such large amounts of personal information about living people.

The American Civil Liberties Union, for instance, has for over 30 years opposed any unrestricted release of census records.

Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst at the ACLU, said harm could come from combining the rich 1940 census data with other information.

"Computer technology today allows you to take information from different sources and combine it into a very high resolution image of somebody's life," he said. "Each particular piece of information might just be one pixel. But when brought together, they become very intrusive."

A document obtained from the National Archives by the Associated Press through a Freedom of Information Act request shows that, in 2010, the U.S. Census Bureau raised privacy concerns about the disclosure of the 1940 census by the nation's record-keeper.

Census Bureau spokesman Robert Bernstein said in an email that any fears the data could be used to harm anyone living today "such as through identity theft" were alleviated when the archives said no birth dates or Social Security numbers would be in the records. One 1940 census question asked a sample group of more than 6 million people whether they had a Social Security number, but did not explicitly ask for the number itself.

Susan Cooper, a spokeswoman for the National Archives, said the agency did not do a privacy impact assessment of the records. She said archives officials did not know of any complaints from the public about the impending release.

Robert Gellman, a privacy and information consultant, said he doubted the records would be of much value to crooks, given how easy it is to obtain personal information on the Internet.

"There's nobody out there complaining about 70-year-old records being used against them," he said.

Morris is also unconcerned about personal information from 1940 being made public.

A self-confessed genealogy addict, she said it was important for people to be able to learn about their ancestors through genealogical research and relies on census records constantly.

"Every family should be interested enough to have a family history," she said.

Today, U.S. census data from 1940 will be a click away 04/01/12 [Last modified: Sunday, April 1, 2012 10:00pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Rays late-night bullpen shuffle: Alvarado, Pruitt down; Kolarek up

    Blogs

    The Rays shuffled their bullpen again after Tuesday's game, sending down struggling LHP Jose Alvarado along with RHP Austin Pruitt to Triple-A Durham, and turning next to LHP Adam Kolarek, who will make his major-league debut at age 28,

  2. Tampa Bay Times honored for top investigative story in Gerald Loeb annual business awards

    Business

    The Tampa Bay Times was a co-winner in the investigative category for one of the highest honors in business journalism.

    Tampa Bay Times current and former staff writers William R. Levesque, Nathaniel Lash and Anthony Cormier were honored in the investigative category for their coverage of "Allegiant Air" in the 60th Anniversary Gerald Loeb Awards for Distinguished Business and Financial Journalism. 
[JAMES BORCHUCK   |   Times

]

  3. Pasco woman gives birth to child fathered by 11 year old, deputies say

    Crime

    A Port Richey woman was arrested Tuesday, nearly three years after deputies say she gave birth to a child fathered by an 11-year-old boy.

    Marissa Mowry, 25, was arrested Tuesday on charges she sexually assaulted an 11-year-old and gave birth to his child. [Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office]
  4. For good of the Rays, Tim Beckham should embrace move to second

    The Heater

    PITTSBURGH — The acquisition of slick-fielding shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria said a lot of things, most notably that the Rays are serious about making in-season moves to bolster their chances to make the playoffs, with a reliever, or two, next on the shopping list.

    PITTSBURGH, PA - JUNE 27:  Tim Beckham #1 of the Tampa Bay Rays celebrates with teammates after scoring during the eighth inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park on June 27, 2017 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images) 700011399
  5. St. Petersburg showdown: Kriseman faces Baker for first time tonight at the Rev. Louis Murphy Sr.'s church

    Local Government

    A standing-room-only crowd packed a Midtown church banquet hall Tuesday to witness the first face-off between Mayor Rick Kriseman and former mayor Rick Baker in what is a watershed mayoral contest in the city's history.

    Former Mayor Rick Baker, left, is challenging incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman, right, to become St. Petersburg mayor.