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The History Center blog shares research and findings about local history, excerpts from the History Center Archives, information about upcoming exhibits and other opportunities on how to get involved with The History Center in Tompkins County. To learn more or view the archival materials mentioned, visit us in downtown Ithaca, follow us on social media @TompkinsHistory, or subscribe to our monthly newsletter History Happenings

HistoryForge Reaches a New Milestone, Keeps on Going! From 1940 to 1880

Tue, September 21, 2021 3:28 PM | Anonymous

It’s been a year in the making but the amazing volunteers for The History Center’s community digital history project, HistoryForge, have finished transcribing the 1940 U.S. Census for the City of Ithaca! These 19,730 census records mark the fifth complete census entered in HistoryForge.  HistoryForge now has all the records for the 1900-1940 Census for the City of Ithaca. All of the information for each census is fully searchable. You can search for individuals, addresses, places of birth, occupations, industries, or any of the attributes in a census at

The 1940 Census provides an important snapshot of our community at a pivotal time. It captured information about how the Great Depression impacted the American public. With many people moving to find employment, it attempted to record that migration by asking where each person had lived five years earlier. Using HistoryForge to learn more about the population of Ithaca we can see that while most (about seventy-five percent) people on the 1940 Census in Ithaca had lived here in 1935, Ithaca also attracted individuals who, five years earlier had been living in almost every state in the nation as well as a wide range of countries.

Employment was, of course, the concern of the day, and the 1940 Census attempted to gather detailed information about employment and unemployment. Exploring industries in the 1940 Census in HistoryForge reveals some of the New Deal programs that bolstered the local economy. Ithacans worked for several local Work Projects Administration (WPA) projects including construction, soil conservation, landscaping, the State Hospital, a park project, a sewer project, and a sewing project.  Some also worked for the National Youth Administration (NYA) and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).  

The 1940 Census was the first census to ask questions about people’s income, as well as their highest grade of school completed. This was also the first census to include a five percent sample. Five percent of the population were asked additional questions including whether they or a close family member were a veteran and the war or military service, and whether they had a social security number or old age or railroad insurance.

The 1950 Census won’t be released by the National Archives until next April. (Watch this space for an exciting exhibit/event surrounding this release!) In the meantime, HistoryForge volunteers have started transcribing the 1880 Census. The next year of transcription will give us a compelling new information for exploring Ithaca: 1880 went deep into the history of the village, while 1950 brings us closer to the modern city. The HistoryForge team is also interested in expanding beyond the City of Ithaca! To do this, we need volunteers from local communities in Tompkins County who want to transcribe the census from their town. If you would like to help in this project in any way fill out a volunteer form: and check our upcoming Virtual HistoryForge Transcription dates.

Written by HistoryForge Project Coordinator - Eve Snyder (

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