The online debut of the 1940 census is now only three-and-a-half months away. At 9 a.m. Eastern on April 2, 2012, the National Archives will make the census available for research free of charge.

The upcoming release of the 1940 census is a classic good news/bad news situation. Good: we get access to those wonderful records and bad because they won’t be indexed (at first).

So how do you make use of the 1940 census before it’s indexed? With a little prep work, you can be all ready to go on 2 April.

Stephen Morse has put up a page on three ways you can access the census, depending on whether your ancestors lived in a big city, a rural area, or if they were still living in the same location as the 1930 census. Visit his page at http://stevemorse.org/census/ to access the utilities for various addresses.

For more information about the 1940 census, including FAQs and information about the questions asked, visit their page on the 1940 Census Records.