As I write these words, the 1940 census has been "available" for about twelve hours. I have to put the word "available" in quote marks because some definitions of the word might not be the same as my definition.
To be blunt, the census records haven't been "available" to very many genealogists.
As predicted by many, myself included, the web site has been severely overloaded since the moment it went live. I have heard a few reports of a few people finally seeing images of original census records, but those reports have been few and far between. Most of us have been staring at hourglass icons or at error messages stating "Site Unavailable." Even for those who finally did see one image, few have been able to repeat the experience.
I suspect the heavy load was especially embarrassing for Archivist David S. Ferriero and Census Bureau director Robert Groves during their press conference this morning. Both tried to demonstrate the web site for the members of the press who were in the audience, but were unable to do so. Finally, a National Archives staffer went to "Plan C" and displayed a copy of a search that each official had completed before the official 9 a.m. start time.
The 1940census.archives.gov web site is being hosted on Amazon cloud computing's thousands of virtual web servers. Even all that horsepower was ineffective as the Archives.com blog advised during mid-day: "We are working with Amazon to get the site up to speed."
Actually, I see all this as a good news/bad news situation. To be sure, trying to access anything on the web, only to find the records are unavailable, is always a frustrating experience. However, at the same time, it demonstrates to bureaucrats and elected officials alike the power and interest level of Americans interested in family history. These are taxpayers! This should be excellent fodder for the next legislative committee hearing on open access to vital records!
My advice to all genealogists is:
Relax. Go have dinner or read a book or do most anything else of interest. These records won't be busy forever. Once the initial thrill of access wears off, the load will subside and we all will be able to access these records as we wish. I'd suggest you return in a few hours, or a few days, or perhaps even in a few weeks, and try again.
The census records aren't going anywhere. They will wait for you.
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