SALT LAKE CITY -- Genealogy enthusiasts from all over the world are excited for April 2 to come because that's the day the 1940 U.S. census will be released to the public.
But for volunteer indexers at FamilySearch, also known as new.familysearch.org, the release will unleash a flurry of activity to digitize the records as quickly as possible to make the document easily searchable.
"If we focus on doing it, we will get it done," said David Rencher, project spokesman and FamilySearch chief genealogy officer.
Rencher confessed to being one of those people who soon will be taking their laptops to the dentist's office and pulling them out in the middle of the night -- anything they can do to reach the goal.
Getting the records digitized quickly, Rencher said, will require close to 20,000 volunteers to work as hard as they can.
FamilySearch is known as the world's largest collection of free family trees, genealogy records and resources.
The agency is supported by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Rencher said FamilySearch workers are calling all the genealogical societies in the country, asking for help with the project.
"There are 2,200 genealogical societies in North America," he said. "The bulk of them are in the U.S. Right now, we have over 500 societies signed up."
The spokesman believes his organization will find the volunteers it needs to index the census quickly.
"Generally, when we get the word out, we get (volunteers)."
But Rencher said this spring's effort will go against the natural flow of how volunteer indexers generally distribute their time.
He said the bulk of the work usually is done in the winter months by volunteers who are kept inside by bad weather.
The rush to index the 1940 census comes right at the time when many volunteers would rather be outside doing other things, he said.
But there are reasons FamilySearch officials are hoping people will fight their natural tendencies to be out enjoying the spring weather and will help with the project instead.
"Anytime a census gets released, people get excited," said Tim Bingaman, research specialist at the LDS Church's Family History Library,
"Census records are the backbone of genealogical research because they put the family into a group."
Bingaman said census records are released only every 72 years.
The reason he believes this particular record is of such interest is the likelihood that some people on the record are still alive, because life expectancies have increased.
One aspect of the 1940 census Bingaman finds exciting is that surveyors asked questions about military service.
There is very little of that information on the 1930 census, he said.
And the fact that the census was taken just before United States involvement in World War II also makes it an important record, Bingaman said, pointing out that many people were lost in the war.
He said the 1940 census also could help in explaining where families relocated as a result of the Great Depression.
Indexing the census is kind of a hurry-up-and-wait experience, say those knowledgeable about the effort.
Volunteer indexers will hurry as fast as they can to help, but it may be six months before the entire record is available for the public to search electronically.
People who want to take a look at the census before it is indexed, Bingaman said, could go to stevemorse.org. He said that website offers tools for people to use to make sense of the census before an indexed record is made.