By Keith Edwards
AUGUSTA -- Bert L. Campbell stopped by the Maine State Library on Monday to learn how to mine a new treasure trove of information from the 1940 U.S. Census.
The search for information about his family history also seemed to transport the 86-year-old Manchester man back in time.
"It brings back an awful lot of memories," Campbell said.
Monday was the first day details and the actual completed forms from the 1940 Census were released publicly, following a 72-year embargo.
Campbell is accounted for in the 1940 Census. At the time, he was attending high school in South Portland, where he and his future wife, Doris -- the two didn't date in high school, but sometimes he would carry her books -- both graduated in 1943.
At the Maine State Library, the release of the 1940 U.S. Decennial Census data was celebrated with a reception, at which staff were available to help the handful of citizens who showed up seeking assistance.
Campbell is no stranger to the library; he said he comes by two or three times a week. Nor is he an amateur when it comes to using the latest technology -- he uses his own laptop to look up information at home, and his daughter also recently got him a Nook, an electronic book reader.
"I stopped by to get familiar with the system and see how to access it on my own computer," Campbell said.
He hopes to share the family genealogical information he's collecting with the family -- three children, their children, and their children's children -- that he and Doris started. She died in 2003.
Campbell, who worked as an engineer for the state Department of Transportation for about 40 years, said his mother piqued his interest in family history.
Peter Golden, of Oakland, sat at a laptop at the library looking for information on his father's family, who he believes were in Augusta in the 1940s, and his mother's family, who were in Gardiner at the time.
With a few keystrokes and by knowing roughly where she lived in the city, Golden was able to locate a Census document from his great-great-aunt Annie Drake. The Census data indicated she lived on Bridge Street with her unmarried brother. She would have been in her 70s in 1940, Golden estimated. He said he had a photo of her, somewhere, in the boxes and boxes of genealogical information he's compiled.
He intends to share that information, once he converts it into electronic form, with his family.
Golden knew the 1940 Census data would be released Monday and also knew other users worldwide sought to access the same set of data. He correctly predicted the computer database would be a bit slow, but anticipates that will pass after the initial rush.
Golden said talking about the historical information is a great way to jog people's memories and get them to share their own oral histories.
Peggy O'Kane, coordinator of reference and research at the Maine State Library, said the Census data site is not yet indexed, making it a challenge for some people to use. She noted that the website ancestry.com also contains 1940 Census data, and the site can be accessed free at public libraries in Maine.
She said the data provide "fabulous information for all of us who care about history."
That's also true for those just interested in some old gossip, she said, such as who lived in your home, whom they lived with, and what they did for a living.
Keith Edwards -- 621-5647
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