The 1940 Census: A New Way to Gawk at Celebrities

Recently-released data sheds light on iconic families like the Rockefellers, and future notables like Elvis Presley and Chuck Norris.

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When the National Archives and Records Administration unveiled data from the 1940 Census on Monday, amateur genealogists flocked. The overwhelming amount of traffic temporarily paralyzed the new website that houses the data for public access.

While the information will surely provide many American families with new insights, it will also pave the way for a fun new game called Find the Personal Information of Famous People — and Future Famous People, Too.

(MORE: The Way We Were: 1940 Census Details Released)

Take, for example, 21-year-old Manhattan resident Jerome, also known as J.D. Salinger. He’s listed under his father, Sol, and is listed with a personal income of $0. He wouldn’t publish his iconic novel The Catcher in the Rye until more than a decade later — and not before being drafted to serve in World War II.

Or take seemingly nondescript infant Carlos Ray Norris, who’d later be known as Chuck. Yes, Chuck Norris. At just five weeks old, he’s listed with his parents, Ray and Wilma, at their Oklahoma residence.

But this find-the-famous-person game is no small undertaking. The blogger and self-proclaimed “genealogy ninja” who found baby Norris’ information tucked away in troves of data explained the steps he took. Since you can’t search the archives by name, the key is to acquire as much information as possible about the person’s residence to determine the corresponding enumeration district. Once you’ve obtained some geographical information, this site helps you narrow down potential districts — but even if you know the desired person’s exact address, there could be more than a dozen districts to sift through. If you’re a novice to the world of genealogical sleuthing, things could get a bit tedious.

(MORE: Census Update: What the World Will Look like in 2050)

Census takers likely couldn’t fathom the genius that would emerge from the likes of Jerome Salinger and Carlos Ray Norris, but other names listed were already pretty high-profile in 1940. Laurance Rockefeller, son of world-famous oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller, Jr., is listed at his residence in the Upper East Side of Manhattan. The data notes he worked 44 hours during the week of March 24, 1940 as an executive in the oil industry. Listed beneath Rockefeller (whose first name was erroneously spelled Lawrence) are his wife, daughters, waitress, cook, two maids, laundress and nurse.

Other iconic celebrities who’ve been spotted include the five-year-old son of a carpenter and a seamstress — a kid known as Elvis. There’s Albert Einstein, who’d just received American citizenship, Charlie Chaplin and his wife, Paulette, and Grace Kelly, age 10.

MORE: The U.S. Census: Let the Great Head Count Begin