The New York Public Library is introducing a new research tool to help track down past city residents through old telephone directories. The release of this new feature coincides with the first-ever online release of the 1940 U.S. Census Bureau data by thee National Archives.
Maira Liriano, head of the library's genealogy division said the census data is great for genealogists, but admits that it’s not necessarily easy for the average person to use. That’s where the phone books will help.
"[The census data] won't be indexed by name," Liriano said. "There won't be any way to go to the National Archives and put in a name and find the person you're looking for in 1940."
But Liriano said users can convert addresses found in the directories into "Enumeration District" ("E.D.") numbers which are required to access the 1940 census data on the National Archives website.
Users can search for a name in the phone books on the library's website and find a corresponding address which can be converted to an "E.D." number. The user will than be directed to the National Archives website to enter the "E.D." number and view the record.
The release of the census information, however, has raised some concerns about privacy.
Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst at the ACLU, said harm could come from combining the rich 1940 census data with other information especially since the records include long-veiled personal details including names, addresses and income and employment information.
"Computer technology today allows you to take information from different sources and combine it into a very high resolution image of somebody's life," he said. "Each particular piece of information might just be one pixel. But when brought together, they become very intrusive."
The National Archives says no birth dates or Social Security numbers would be in the records.
Liriano hopes the library will eventually use telephone and other directories to create a database of New Yorkers as far back as the 18th century, but for now only the 1940 phone books for the 5 boroughs are available.
With the Associated Press