The National Archives released the 1950 census on April 1, 2022. This is a huge milestone for historians and genealogists everywhere, as it provides a detailed look into mid-century America. The data collected by the Census Bureau helps to paint a picture of what life was like for different groups of people across the country. Researchers can learn more about everything from housing and employment trends to family dynamics and racial demographics with this new information. The 1950 census is a treasure trove of information, and we can’t wait to see what new insights it yields!
Keeping with the digital age, The National Archives had made a digital version of the 1950 census available online. In the past, after the census was released, it would take a considerable time for the entire document to be microfilmed, sent to libraries and repositories, and then made available to the public. This year, it is available instantly. There is also an option to download the entire census through Amazon Web Services’ Registry of Open Data.
Names on the census are indexed using Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Optical Character Recognition (OCR). The National Archives cautions that the index will be imperfect. Some names are misspelled or mistranscribed, but genealogists are used to dealing with name and surname variations. Citizen historians and armchair researchers are encouraged to correct false names with an online transcription tool available on the census website. Familysearch.org is also enlisting its users to help create an online index for its site.
The 1950 census includes data from the 48 states that made up the union, plus the territories of Alaska, Hawaii, and other islands. The Census Bureau states, “The 1950 census encompassed the continental United States, the territories of Alaska and Hawaii, American Samoa, the Canal Zone, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands of the United States, and some of the smaller island territories. Americans abroad were enumerated for the first time in 1950.”
Researchers with Native American ancestry will be especially interested in this collection. “Native Americans living on reservations were first enumerated on the standard form used in most of the United States: Form P1, 1950 Census of Population and Housing. The enumerator then filled out Form P8, Indian Reservation Schedule, a one-sided, one-page form.” (source) This page asked questions about other names used by the person, tribal affiliation, and degree of native blood–full, half, quarter, or less than a quarter–literacy, and if the person attended tribal ceremonies in the last year.
Besides an accurate accounting of the population, the federal government wanted details about each person. There are twenty questions every person listed had to answer, with additional questions for random people listed on each page. The National Archives site lists and describes the questions online:
- Name of street, avenue, or road
- House and apartment number
- Serial number of the dwelling unit
- Is this house on a farm or ranch?
- Is this house on a place of three or more acres?
- Agricultural Questionnaire Number
- Relationship to head of household
- Age on last birthday
- Marital status: Married (Mar), Widowed (Wd), Divorced (D), or Separated (Sep)
- State or country of birth
- Naturalization status if foreign-born (Yes, No, or AP for born abroad of American parents)
Persons over age 14 answered additional questions about occupation and length of time working. Six people on “sample” lines answered thirteen more questions about education and service in World War I or II. The last person on each census sheet was asked five more questions dealing with marital status for men and women and the number of children and stillbirths for women. See more 1950 census statistics.
Census records are among the most often consulted records when conducting genealogy research. Each census theoretically names and tallies every citizen of the United States and its territories. This snapshot of your ancestors’ households is invaluable information. Every census can provide connections to link generations by walking back your family history.
The 1950 census is officially the 17th decennial enumeration of the United States. Census records have been taken by the federal government every ten years, beginning in 1790. Early censuses listed only the heads of households and tally marks for additional occupants. Census records from 1850 to the present have included the name of everyone in the household. These documents are the go-to records for researchers looking for their ancestors. Census records are private and sealed for 72 years. The last census release was the 1940 census, released on April 1, 2012. The next big release will be the 1960 census which will not be available for public viewing until April 1, 2032.
The general population may not realize the importance of April 1, 2022, but it is no April Fool’s joke for those who have anticipated this day and moment. Many genealogists and everyday people are checking out the census to see if their names appear on the list!