Monday, December 23, 2019

What Did Ancestors Say in 1950 US Census?

Question #33 on 1950 Census
I vividly remember the morning of April 2, 2012, when the 1940 US Census was released to the public. Although volunteers were racing to index the names as quickly as possible, no name search was available for several weeks.

To start, the only way to find ancestors in 1940 records was by address. Specifically, by scrolling through page by page of Census records in various Enumeration Districts (EDs). It was slow but also exciting when I finally found the handwritten entries for ancestors in my tree and my husband's tree!

The 1950 Census has lots of questions that will fill in gaps in genealogy for us all. No wonder I can hardly wait for the release of these records in April of 2022. Here are a few specifics I'm really curious about.

What About Women in the Military?

Excerpt from 1950 Enumerator Instructions
I'll be interested to see how the enumerator handled my aunt's WWII military service (she was a WAC). As shown at top, question #33 indicates that males over age 14 are to be asked about their military service. At left, instructions to enumerators reiterates that "each male 14 years old and over" be asked about military service.

I guess the Census officials never heard of WACs, WAVES, or WASPs. Not to mention SPARs, women Marines, female military nurses, and . . . and . . . more than 300,000 women who were actively serving in WWII.

Will there be an answer shown on my aunt's line in the Census? Knowing her pride in having served, she would certainly want to answer. She would even insist on answering! But will the enumerator have put a check mark in one of the boxes for her line? That's a mystery until April of 2022.

How Much Money Did They Make?
Question #31 on 1950 Census

My mother used to say that 1950 was a peak year for my father's income as a self-employed travel agent. She named a dollar figure too.

Well, the 1950 Census asks how much money each person earned in 1949. See the excerpt from the Census questionnaire here.

I can't wait to see what the enumerator was told about how much Dad earned "in his own business," as the question is phrased. BTW, enumerators were instructed to write $10,000+ if the income was above 10 grand per year. That was a good deal of money back in the day!

And I'll see how much money other relatives made during 1949, a year that was, I now understand, not a time of growth but actually a recessionary period. (Genealogy has made me intensely interested in the historical context of my ancestors!)

Prepping for 1950: Addresses and Priorities

Steve Morse and Joel Weintraub have written a primer on prepping for the 1950 Census release, following the same general guidelines as for the 1940 Census. Also watch their video here.

If you are lucky enough to know the exact street address of an ancestor in 1950, you can easily find the Enumeration District via Morse's One-Step Page. If you don't know the address, Morse recommends checking old city directories, family address books, and other sources. Then use his one-step links to get the ED.

Until the 1950 Census is indexed (I bet it will be done faster than in 2012), my plan is to prioritize who to find first. I'll create a simple list of people and the address where I think or know each is likely to be found.

And of course, I'll use the Census to examine or update the FAN club--friends, associates, neighbors--of my ancestors. This is a great opportunity to look more closely at "family friends" who may turn out to be cousins or closer, in reality.

Back to the future in 2022!

P.S.: I'm gathering all my 1950 US Census posts into one summary page, shown at top of this blog header. Here's a direct link.


  1. You are making me very excited for the 1950 US Census! Question #31 will be a fascinating look into our ancestors' financial situations.

  2. Since I was born in 1950, I’ve always looked forward to seeing this census. But, alas, I have learned over the years, that I will probably not be enumerated. I was born in March. I may never live to see myself in a census. However, that doesn’t stop me from being excited about this release. I helped index the 1940 and hope to help again. Bring it on. We’re ready!

  3. Hi,
    Thanks for the plug for our 1950 tools. I've put up on YouTube two Powerpoint talks on the 1950 census, how it was carried out, what's in it, and how to use our location search tools. See Randy Seaver’s writeup about the two 1950 talks...
    Joel Weintraub
    Dana Point, CA

    1. Hi Joel, Thanks for your comment and especially thanks for the wonderful 1950 tools that you and Steve Morse have posted! I'll put the YouTube link into my 1950 Census posts.