U.S. census records from Alaska in 1940 are now available online in a format that allows the public to search by name and community. The searchable index is part of the 1940 U.S. Census Community Project, a collaboration between the National Archives and several genealogy organizations.
While census data concerning population numbers, race, general income and so forth are made available soon after the information is collected, the enumeration paperwork itself, containing individual names and personal details, cannot be revealed until 72 years after the census is completed. For the 1940 head count, that date came in April of this year, when 3.75 million digital pages were released.
"They're not too exciting to try and look through," said Paul Naua, a spokesman for the project. "What you need to make it usable is the ability to type in a name and have the Internet go out and search 132 million names for you."
About 125,000 volunteers have undertaken the effort to transcribe the handwritten records into and computer-friendly Internet form. As of Thursday, they were about halfway done.
Alaska and Hawaii, both territories in 1940, were part of the first batch to go online, along with 16 states, most with relatively small populations at the time (Arizona, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, Virginia and Wyoming).
In 1940, Alaska had 72,604 people. Census takers took down specific details for each one of them. By entering "William Egan" one finds that the future governor, age 24 at the time, was living in his mother's house and making $1,800 a year as a bartender.
Julius Pleasant, 32 in 1940, lived in the one-room home of his parents, Ferdinand and Anna, along with a brother, his wife and three children in Quinhagak. Later a highly respected elder and founder of the village of Twin Hills, Pleasant made $120 that year by working for the Civilian Conservation Corps. It represented the entire income of the household of eight.
Less-famous Alaskans are also profiled. Enoch S. Nordby, born in Norway to U.S. citizens in 1910, was married to Fern Nordby of Texas, nine years his senior, gave his occupation as "Caterpillar driver" and put his income for the preceding 12 months as $800. He was one of 162 residents of the "Homer Settlement."
Finding small communities like Homer or Quinhagak can be tricky unless you know which district to search. Homer is in the files of the Seldovia District, the Kuskokwim Bay village of Quinhagak is found under the "Good News Bay" listings. Spellings can also present a stumbling block. Quinhagak is spelled "Kwinhagak" (a better, but no longer official, spelling) and the Yukon River community of Emmonak is spelled "Emanuck."
But if you enter a person's name, the transcribed details pop right up. From there, you can click to a facsimile of the original page and see all members of a community who were enumerated during the census.
Some towns no longer exist. The fishing, canning and mining community of Unga, between Kodiak and the Alaska Peninsula, had 42 families with 155 people. Every head of household was employed, some making four-figure incomes. The Yukon Delta village of Chaneliak had 97 residents and 22 families. Total village income was $3,475, most of which was the salary of the teacher. Both settlements were abandoned within 25 years.
Other places have continued to thrive. Barrow's 375 residents include a remarkably mixed population, probably due to the presence of a hospital there. And the names -- Hopson, Nageak, Brower -- read like the latest Barrow phone book.
One quarter of Americans now alive are listed in the 1940 census, Nauta said. "This will be the most highly searched collection online for the next 10 years," he predicted.
Nauta said the project is continuing to look for volunteers for ongoing census work. Information is available at the1940census.com.
A press release named websites offering the information, including 1940census.archives.gov; however that site did not yet have a search by names function when checked on Thursday.
Easy and free access to the search-by-name function was found on other sites, including familysearch.org (click on the circular 1940 logo then on the red map of Alaska) and archives.com (click on the circular 1940 logo).