When will the census be released?
On Monday, April 2nd, at 9:00 AM Eastern, images of the 1940 census will be available to view at 1940census.archives.gov. The images will begin appearing at FamilySearch.org later in the day, but it may take several days for larger states to be added. The census will be free to browse and search at Ancestry.com through the end of 2013. The census will also be available, free of charge, at WorldVitalRecords and MyHeritage.
Why is it being released now?
A 1978 rule codified an existing policy of waiting 72 years to release census data to the public.
"The 1870 census records were made available when they were transferred to the Archives in 1942, 72 years after the census was taken. This established the 72-year precedent for restrictions on population census records."
Census day in 1940 was April 1st. Since April 1st falls on a Sunday this year, the census will be released Monday morning.
Will the census be indexed by name?
Not at first. It will takes months for websites to make the entire census searchable by name. I expect the index created by FamilySearch (in partnership with Archives.com and Findmypast.com) to be the first and most accurate index to come online. You can help the effort by volunteering to index.
Without a name index, how will I find my relatives?
When the census images are released, they will arranged by enumeration district (ED). You will have to browse the images page by page to find the names you're looking for. If you know where your relatives were living, visit Steve Morse's site and find the ED associated with that address. You might also use these maps to determine the ED for Maine locations. If you know the ED where your relatives were living in 1930, try using Steve Morse's Unified 1940 Census ED Finder to determine the 1940 ED.
If your relative lived in a larger town or city—one with many EDs—browsing the census will be time consuming. Ancestry.com has an extensive collection of Maine city directories that could help narrow your search to a particular street or neighborhood.
What information will the 1940 census give me?
Here is a list of questions asked by the census takers. Many of the questions will be familiar from the 1930 census, but there are a few welcome additions.
Where can I find more information on the 1940 census?
The National Archives website provides additional information on the process of enumeration, lists some of the codes you might see on the census schedules, and offers free blank census forms that you can fill out on your computer and print out for your files.