REPEATING HISTORY: The National Archives Puts 1940 Census Online, Massive Clusterfuck Ensues


ASSOCIATED PRESS: Interest in the newly released 1940 U.S. census is so great that the government website with the information was nearly paralyzed shortly after the records became available to the public for the first time. Miriam Kleiman, spokeswoman for the U.S. National Archives, told The Associated Press that the site registered more than 22 million hits in just four hours on Monday, from almost 2 million users. In a tweet posted after 5 p.m. on its official Twitter account, the archives said the website had received 37 million hits since the information was released at 9 a.m. Computer experts were working on the site to bring it up to speed as soon as possible. A notice posted on the website early Tuesday said some improvements had been made and that “further enhancements” would be made on Tuesday. The public was thanked for its patience. The government released the records for the first time after 72 years of confidentiality expired. More than 21 million people still alive in the U.S. and Puerto Rico were counted in the 1940 census. The census followed a decade when tens of millions of people in the U.S. experienced mass unemployment and social upheaval as the nation clawed its way out of the Great Depression and rumblings of global war were heard from abroad. Monday’s release includes digitized records for details on 132 million people. Access to the records is free and open to anyone online, but they are not yet searchable by name. For now, researchers will need an address to determine a census enumeration district — a way to carve up the map for surveying — to identify where someone lived and then browse the records. Every decade since 1942, the National Archives has made available records from past censuses. The records, which include names, addresses and income and employment information, are rich with long-veiled personal details. MORE

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