Census records are kept sealed for 72 years, from the date at which they were taken. So the April 1,1940 records were just opened for the first time last week. The experts at Ancestry.com have done an amazing job of photographing every page and arranging the images, so that genealogists can find the pages by state, county, city (called "inhabited place"), and ward. Indexing by name will take much longer, so for now you can't enter a name and hope to find that person. And until the indexing is finished, finding your ancestors will take some time, since it depends on scrolling through page after page of handwritten data. Still, you can find the people you are looking for if you know where they lived. As a member of Ancestry.com, I was able to register to be notified when the two states I'm most interested in exploring have been indexed and made available.
What was happening in 1940? Well for some of us old-timers, we were busy getting born, learning to crawl, tasting real food for the first time, and keeping our parents up all night. For the rest of you, it was still "the olden days." But chances are really good that you know, or remember, someone whose life is being revealed for the first time. 1940 was the year that most of Europe was already caught up in a major war, but America was still almost 2 years away from entering WWII. For the United States, the crucial issue was recovery from the Great Depression, and you'll find signs of that all through the census questions.
Among the questions asked of everyone were these:
For a few randomly-selected individuals (about 1 in 10-15) additional questions included:
And for women:
Here's one random example, pulled from my own home town. One of the people selected for addition questioning was a 42-year-old unmarried man who lived with his father, an older brother, and an older sister in a rented home. In the main data, he is listed as a laborer, employed by the government in a project to wash City Hall, and his total income for the year was $520.
In the supplementary section, he was not a veteran, had no Social Security or old-age insurance, and considered himself to be a crane operator in the bridge construction business.
The details are fascinating and eye-opening. Prepare to be shocked -- and then grateful for what you have.