Searching the 1940 U.S. Census in Seattle: Oops!


You probably heard the big buzz. Today was the day that, after a mandatory 72-year secrecy period, the actual work papers from the 1940 U.S. Census were to be made public. And on the Internet, no less. That way, you immediately could search for Grandpa and Grandma and anyone else in your family tree alive at the time instead of going to the nearest government depository library and pouring through reels of smelly microfilm.

But you know, it’s a government project, and government plans don’t always work out. I logged on, specified the enumeration district, as census tracts are called, where my mother lived that year, and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

I’m still waiting.

It turns out that the feds and their private sector partner, Inflection, a for-profit company owned by Silicon Valley venture capitalists that operates the website site archives.com, wildly underestimated the first-day demand. Servers crashed with the online equivalent of a 6.0 earthquake (remember before I became New To Seattle, I was New To California, where even 4.0 shakers were greeted with a yawn). Apparently Inflection and their government contacts never got the memo about how 243,542,822 Americans had Internet access, plus another 2 billion or so elsewhere.

That occasioned the following back-and-forth email today between me and the fine folks at Inflection d/b/a archives.com:

(From me at 11:04 a.m. PT)

Subject: Observation

I think today’s big glitch might delay your IPO by about 10 years.

(Reply at 2:24 p.m. PT from “Susan,” a “Member Services Representative”)

Subject: Re: Observation

Thank you for contacting Archives.com. I am sorry about the difficulty you are having viewing the pages.  Please try refreshing your browser, if you reach a page that states no longer valid.  Due to extraordinary demand, this website is undergoing updates to better accommodate users. While these changes take place, you can still use many of the useful features built into this website (search for enumeration districts, bookmark results, etc). We appreciate your patience, as enhancements are underway! Please let us know if we can assist you further.

Hey, I waited 72 years (and I’m only age 60). What’s a few more?

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2 Responses to Searching the 1940 U.S. Census in Seattle: Oops!

  1. Agreed. Given the tartness of my comment, I was a little surprised to get any response. But as of earlier today, I still wasn’t able to download the enumeration papers for my mother’s childhood home.

  2. Peter B. says:

    Well, at least their customer service rep responded to you. That’s better than the cable and cell phone companies.

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