Sunday, April 1, 2012

Don’t Research the 1940 Census in a Vacuum

Knowing the Decade of 1930 - 1940
In case you’ve lived under a rock in 2012, you probably already know that the 1940 census will be released 2 April and that it will help many of us move our family research out of the abyss.  To understand the magnitude of this new release, be sure to become familiar with the era.  Between 1930 and 1940 the historical and social timelines of America painted many changes in rural and urban family life.  Surprising to some, more occurred than Amelia Earhart’s noted solo fly across the Atlantic Ocean (1932).  Keeping your research in perspective, may assist you in locating and researching your ancestor.

This decade launched the computer age. It was in 1930 that Massachusetts Institute of Technology, (MIT) invented the forerunner of the world wide web - the first analog computer (Vannevar Bush).  Was your ancestor involved or part of this revolutionary invention?

Many may remember the historical event of the Star Spangled Banner being approved as the national anthem in 1931, even if the end of War of 1812 that inspired the lyrics, is forgotten.

Perhaps your veteran ancestor was one of the fifteen to twenty-five  thousand WWI veterans who camped near the White House in 1932 to pass the “Bonus Bill” pay.

In 1933 the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC was established). By 1935 over 500,000 men served by constructing national parks and other Federal projects. This was also the year  the year the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) was established.

Unrelated (I’m assuming), Prohibition was repealed (21st Amendment to Constitution) .  The depression was underway, and Mother Nature was not helping. In 1934 the Great Plains’ dust bowl encouraging movement to California and other western states. 

Interestingly enough, most US citizens aren’t aware that at one time Philippines was a US territory. But in 1934 US Philippine residents were no longer classified as American citizens, but reclassified to “aliens” via the Tydings - McDuffie Act. Was your Filipino ancestor affected by this change?

Where Was Your Ancestor in 1935?
One of the questions on the 1940 census: “Where were you in 1935? This migratory clue coupled with a bit of history may assist the family researcher.

I suggest that 1935 was the year of art revitalization.  The Works Progress Administration (WPA) [Works Project Administration, 1939] brought us more than beautiful architecture; it helped create an awareness of the arts.  Through the WPA project 3.4 million ancestors were filled over 8 million jobs between 1935 - 1943.  Many of these records may be found at the National Archives Records of the Works Projects Administration.

African American culture played a vital role in this art awareness period.   In New York, in spite of the economic challenges, George Gershwin’s opera Porgy and Bess premiered. The cast featured classically trained African American singers.  The Museum of Modern Art  (MOMA) hosted an  African American art exhibit.   Many art-centric African Americans, found their way to New York for opportunities. In towns like Kansas City where the Count Basie Orchestra played at the Reno Club, small community venues sprouted across the nation and were news worthy.  

We all know that social security applications are being redacted as needed and alternatives to that genealogical tool is needed, but it’s good to know that it is still a valuable took in certain searches today. In 1935 the Social Security Act was passed. Our ancestors fulfilled obligations to meet the social security application requirements. My Great Grandmother Mary Strader (1865-1968) had no proof of her birth, but her social security eligibility was met by obtaining school records and school correspondence. 

The Martians Are Coming
Where was your ancestor 30 Oct 1938?  An excerpt of the War of the Worlds by Orson Welles was heard over the radio speakers in many homes.  This was the day that radio listeners first learned that “Martians had arrived.”

Speaking of Martians ( relation) but the Alien Registration Act registered all aliens over 14 years of age.  These genealogical rich records can be located at the National Archives.  For more information visit: Don’t Wait for the 1940 Census. 

Changes Late in the Decade
It was in 1938 that child labor became illegal, changing the face of urban workers (Fair labor Standards Acts).  This change in work force was exacerbated by the recession. 

1938 Blue Gray Reunion photo 
Perhaps your veteran was one of  1800 Civil War veterans who attended the Blue and Gray Reunion held in Gettysburg in 1938 commemorating the Battle of Gettysburg. Information may be found in veteran publications to include The History of the Grand Army of the Republic, Confederate VeteranSouthern Bivouac, and  the Journals of the GAR Grand Encampments.  

For More Information:
Remembering Last Reunion of Civil War Veterans, NPR

Kathleen Brandt
Accurate Accessible Answers

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