1940 Census: A Snapshot of Early Korean Immigrants’ Life

(Photo courtesy of the U.S. Census Bureau Public Information Office)

Since the United States Census Bureau released its completed 1940 census forms, the data has been used by many to construct a view of how America looked seven decades ago. In the translated article below, the Korea Times provided a snapshot of the lives of early Korean immigrants to New York State. (For more information life here in 1940, take a look at the original data on the U.S. Census website.)

Data recently made public from the United States Census show that there were officially 83 Korean residents in New York State in 1940.

Ancestry.com, an online research company, has made the US Census Bureau statistics accessible to the public. According to the census of that year, there were 83 people who described themselves as Korean. This data is opened to the public, after it was declassified by the federal government. Ancestry.com established an online database which provides a races search service, including the Korean population data.

By region, the records show 61 Koreans in Manhattan, 15 in Brooklyn, and 1 in Staten Island. With 77 Koreans, New York City was home to most of the Koreans, followed by three in Nassau County, and one each in Westchester County, Rockland County, and Rensselaer County. As for the sex ratio, there were 58 men to 25 women.

Based on the information from the Census forms, 22 Koreans were heads of families, 10 were wives, 11 were sons and 10 were daughters. In addition, there were 23 Koreans who lived with home-stay families, and seven people who registered as servants.

When it came to birthplace, 47 people were born in Korea, followed by 26 born in America, three in Japan, and three in Russia. For a few of the Koreans who listed their birthplace as Korea, the term “Japan Joseon” was used, which referred to the Japanese occupation of Korea in 1940. Among people who were born in the States, New York State had the largest number, at 11, followed by California and Hawaii with four people each, and Washington and Kansas with two people each.

However, some say that there were probably more Koreans here than was represented in the Census data. Because 1940 was during the Japanese colonial period, some Koreans may not have described themselves as Korean.

Among the people who described themselves as Chinese or Japanese, there were 33 people whose family name was ‘Kim.’ [The most common Korean surname.] And, in case of one man, Nambok Jo, who was born in 1889, he was registered as ‘white.’ These examples show that a considerable number of Koreans were registered incorrectly.

Meanwhile, in 1940, the population of New York City was 7,460,000, the most in the United States. It was more than twice the size of Chicago, the second biggest city, which had 3,400,000 people. The city with the third-largest population was Philadelphia, where 1,930,000 people lived.

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