Browse free of charge
|US Census Bureau [Public domain]|
You can browse the 1940 census for free at http://1940census.archives.gov/. Start by selecting the state, the county, and the Enumeration District (ED). The 1940 street address will help you find the ED, or there may be a map or description of the EDs that will help. Once you've found the correct district, you can look through images of the actual census pages.
In northern Nebraska where I'm from, the populations were small. In most of the EDs, it's easy to find a name by going from one page to the next. Rock County, Nebraska, for example, had just 16 EDs. A county map on the census site shows the ED locations. Of the county's 16 EDs, 14 of them have 10 pages of names or less.
In comparison, Christian County, Kentucky, had 34 Enumeration Districts. A map of Hopkinsville shows the locations of EDs 1-10, but there's no county map for the remaining 24 districts. However, there are written descriptions of those districts' locations. Then, when the ED is pinpointed, there are up to 52 pages of names to look through!
And can you imagine trying to locate a family or an individual in hundreds (or thousands) of pages when you only know a vague location, such as "eastern Kentucky?" Most of us don't have enough time or patience for that sort of search.
Fortunately, the 1940 census is being converted from its original handwritten form to a digital database that can be searched by computers. Ancestry.com has several states completely indexed and available for search-by-name. Volunteers are indexing at the 1940 U.S. Census Community Project. According to Family Search, a participant in the Community Project, 68% of the 1940 census has been indexed in just 2-1/2 months.
I enjoyed browsing a few sparsely populated Nebraska counties tonight, but I'm waiting for the indexing to be complete before I attempt any serious searching. In a few months, the 1940 census will be much easier to navigate.