Search Lakeland’s History Through the 1940 Census


1940 Census District map
Lakeland, FL

There’s a new National Archives website online and it has a Lakeland component. In pages of data on Lakeland, Longtime residents will recognize family names, city streets and may even find it odd that Lake Wire is called Wire Lake.

Some readers may even know Mary Claire Moore or Helen C. Koons. The two women probably didn’t think about it, but they were historians of sorts. In April 1940, they were part of a team that walked Lakeland to ask residents a few questions for the latest Census. Every ten years, Americans would dutifully give their names and ages to the Enumerators – the women and men who recorded the information on the forms sent to the Bureau of the Census. 1n 1940, Moore and Koons were part of that team. We know that through their signatures on many of the 548 Census Schedules filled out on every Lakeland resident that April 1940.

Their work is now available for genealogists and amateur historians. This week, the National Archives released the 1940 Census microfilms online. Anyone can browse the sheets detailing the 132 million people living in 1940 America. The usual questions of race, age, employment and family relationships were asked. The 1940 Census included a few firsts though. The world political climate was unstable and Enumerators were charged to ask if anyone was foreign-born. The government wanted to know how many German and Japanese Americans lived in the States. The 1940 Census was the first to ask where the person had lived five years previously. It was evident Americans were starting to move and the Bureau of the Census wanted to track those patterns.

Searching the Census Schedules isn’t a simple matter of entering your grandmother’s name to find her information. You’ll have to do a little digging. The National Archives has a search tool, but it isn’t detailed by street for Lakeland. You can quickly drill down to find that there are 548 Lakeland-related pages of information, but then you’ll need to browse.

Lakeland’s information is detailed on many pages. There’s a map included detailing the boundaries of the Enumeration Districts. There are five sheets explaining those boundaries. There are 16 districts with 548 pages of listings by street.

Find the Enumeration District for your grandmother’s house and you’ll have the key to find her Census Schedule. You may be lucky and know she lived on a street in a small district, or you could scan 75 pages to find her home.

The beauty of the documents is discovering your family’s neighbors. The Bureau of the Census estimates there are 21 million people still alive that are listed in the 1940 documents. Perhaps a neighbor is still in Lakeland who remembers your family and can share some oral history of their life in 1940.