Huge interest in 1940 census crashes website

The Nassau and Suffolk Farm Bureau's "Eat Long

The Nassau and Suffolk Farm Bureau's "Eat Long Island Potatoes" car. (1948) (Credit: Water Mill Museum)

"Overwhelming" interest in residents' responses on the 1940 census, publicly released Monday after the 72-year confidentiality period ended, was so great that it crashed the National Archives and Records Administration's website.

"We've had 22.5 million hits, as of about noon," just three hours after the 1940 census records went live on the National Archives' website -- 1940census.archives.gov -- said agency spokeswoman Susan Cooper. She said that a "huge response" in a short period led to technical glitches that prevented many people from actually viewing images from the 1940 census.

The National Archives said it was the only site where all 3.8 million images from the 1940 census could be viewed immediately. It's also free to the public.

Commercial genealogy firms plan to upload the 1940 census on their websites as well. Ancestry.com reported a 175 percent increase in traffic to its site, ancestry.com/1940, and officials there said they were ahead of schedule in uploading the records, anticipating it will be done before the end of the week. The 1940 census records also will be free through December 2013.

Cooper said the National Archives "anticipated a huge response, but not such an overwhelming response as we got." This the first time the agency put census records online.

The archives posted an apology on its Facebook page.

"Since 9 a.m., we've had 37 million hits to the 1940 Census site," it read. "Please be aware that to try to meet this extraordinary demand, the 1940 Census site is undergoing updates. . . . Thank you for sticking with us through this frustrating event -- we are working to improve so that our researchers can access the census records they need."

Renee Steinig, 65, of Dix Hills, was so eager to log onto the archives' site and start searching for her immigrant parents' addresses in Brooklyn -- their "first appearance on a United States census" -- that she was ready to mine the archives' website just after midnight. Then she remembered the data wasn't available until 9 a.m. Monday. Her late parents, Carl and Rose Stern, had fled Nazi-occupied Europe -- her father left Germany in 1939 and her mother left Romania in 1938 -- and settled in New York. They would meet and marry a few years later.

"I'm beyond interested," said Steinig, a board member and past president of the Jewish Genealogy Society. While her initial attempts were thwarted by the technical problems, she said she wouldn't give up.

"What I'm going to do it is wait until 3 in the morning. I'll wait for everyone to go to sleep" to browse the website, she said.

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