Curious about your relatives in 1940? Census now searchable by name


By Raanan Geberer

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

with Randy Herschaft

Associated Press

Brooklynites are now able to plug family names into an online 1940 U.S. census and come up with details about the lives of all New York state residents — from Leo Durocher, who managed the Brooklyn Dodgers that year, to their own relatives.

People who want to search can log on to www.ancestry.com/1940-census. Census experts say the New York data is of national interest because tens of millions of Americans have roots in this gateway to the United States.

"That's the exciting aspect about this — the ability to search the lifetime of our mothers and fathers," said Debra Braverman, a forensic genealogist with clients seeking information for trust funds and estates.

Braverman uncovered details about her 84-year-old father's family because her father, Sidney Braverman, remembered his family's Brooklyn address before his bar mitzvah in 1940, when he was 13.

But the Brooklyn childhood address her mother remembered didn't match, so they will try to find the information again this week.

In another case, Brooklyn Daily Eagle managing editor Raanan Geberer, although from a Bronx family, remembered one relative who lived in Brooklyn — Walter Eisenberg, a well-known labor negotiator who was about his father’s age. Geberer recalled visiting him near Avenue H and Brooklyn College.

An obituary from the New York Times of April 26, 1995, described him as being 74 years old and “an economics professor emeritus at Hunter College who helped settle many labor disputes at the city, state and federal levels.”

The obit goes on to say that “Walter Eisenberg grew up in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn and graduated in economics from City College in 1941.”

A quick search of Ancestry.com, which has a link to the newly posted 1940 Census data, lists a Walter Eisenberg, born in 1921, who lived with his family on Division Avenue in Williamsburg.

Furthermore, his mother’s birthplace is listed as Romania, the same as Geberer’s paternal grandparents. In all probability, this is the same person.

When the census was first released, "if you didn't know exactly where someone lived in 1940, you couldn't find them," Braverman said.

Indexing by name is crucial to cracking the until-now closed book of that year's census, which by law could not be released for 72 years and is therefore the most recently available one.

Also yesterday, another historic treasure trove appeared on the Internet for the first time: census information compiled separately by New York state for 1915 and 1925, indexed by name. These records include details about famed personalities such as Lauren Bacall, Al Capone, Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Houdini.

Former Mayor Ed Koch hit the jackpot when it came to his family history, which is contained in all three censuses — the federal one, as well as the New York ones from 1915 and 1925.

His said his father came from Europe, alone at age 16, eventually raising a family in a Bronx apartment. For years, "I told people that we lived in abject poverty," he said. A series of census records from the time proved him wrong.

They showed that the Depression-era rent for the Kochs' five-room Bronx apartment was $75 a month, "and that was a lot of money at the time," Koch said.

"All my life, I was telling people I was very poor, but I learned we did not live in abject poverty; I was born into a middle-class family," he said.

The census data also include such information as occupation, whether immigrants were naturalized citizens, and whether they owned or rented their homes — in other words, sketches of communities, said David M. Kleiman, president of Heritage Muse Inc., a New York-based genealogy technology firm.

"What we're all looking for is the story of the family — what made my grandparents the way they were, which made my parents the way they were, which made me what I am," he said.