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Finding Grandma: Locating Individuals in the 1940 Census

Project Description:

This project constructs an exciting new data source for the social sciences: It attempts to find the 1940 Census records of respondents who were interviewed in two major social scientific surveys. Doing so adds important historical information on these individuals' earlier lives and origin families. Think of it as a large-scale genealogy project. To find specific people in the historical Census records, the project relies on both computer algorithms and people, i.e. you! Eventually, this project will yield innovative new data on both the early-life experiences of today’s elderly as well as the circumstances of prior generations. It will be used to assess the dynamics of inequality across individuals’ life-course as well as patterns of social mobility across multiple generations of the same family.

Student Tasks & Responsibilities:

In the position of "data trainer", you will be given the names (and other information) of particular individuals whose Census records we are trying to find. You will access a small set of electronic Census records from 1940 to decide which one belongs to each individual. Often, this requires some quite difficult decisions and some assumptions, so you will document your arguments and observations. You will work in a team of students to discuss particularly tricky or enlightening cases.

Minimum Qualifications:

- Attention to detail

- Ability to consider multiple, fuzzy decision criteria

- Great command of the English language (e.g. realizing that "Billy" may be the same person as "William”)


Contact Person: Jacob Topham at


Average hours of work per week: 6-12

Range of credit hours students can earn: 2-4

Number of positions available: 3