The 1940 Census as Digital Data

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The 1940 Census as Digital Data

Presented by the Digital Innovation Lab


Tuesday, April 10

University Room, Hyde Hall, UNC-Chapel Hill

Image from the National Archives

On April 2, the National Archives will release the full 1940 U.S. Census to the public, following the required 72-year restriction of access to enumeration data. This census will provide a window into the lives of ordinary Americans, immigrants, and refugees during the Great Depression / the eve of the country’s entry into World War II. For the first time, these records will be released solely in digital format. Though the records will be freely accessible, they will not be fully searchable until indexing is complete.

The Digital Innovation Lab at UNC-CH will host two events to mark the occasion of the release, and to explore the implications and applications of this digital dataset for librarians and archivists, historians, population researchers and genealogists, and those interested in “big data.” In addition to discussing the 1940 census as a historical document, additional topics to be covered will include applying Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology to the handwritten enumerations, and expanding accessibility through the development of indexing, crowdsourcing, and search tools and platforms.

The 1940 Census: A Public Roundtable Discussion

12:30 pm – 2:00 pm in University Room, Hyde Hall

Join us for this lively discussion of the uses of the 1940 census from the perspective of genealogists, historians, and computer scientists. We’ll explore the challenges of handling millions of digital records, and how those records can be used with other types of historical data.


Constance Potter, National Archives and Records Administration

Kenton McHenry, National Center for Supercomputing Applications

Stephen Robertson, University of Sydney and co-author of “Digital Harlem

 Emily Stanford Schultz,

Using the 1940 Census: A Hands-On Workshop

3:00 – 4:30 pm in University Room, Hyde Hall

Constance Potter, National Archives and Records Administration

Emily Stanford Schultz,

Robert Allen, American Studies, UNC

In this afternoon workshop we’ll explore different approaches to accessing and using the 1940 census. Constance Potter will provide historical and interpretive context about the census, and Robert Allen will share some pedagogical applications for using census data alongside other sorts of historical data. Participants will also have the opportunity to try out FamilySearch’s crowdsourcing tool for indexing and transcribing census enumeration files (laptops encouraged).

For questions visit or email Pam Lach:

To access the census after April 2 visit

More details are available at