Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Decoding Ancestor Occupations in 1950 US Census

When the 1950 US Census was released last month, I located dozens of ancestors, noted the basic details for each, and downloaded the Census pages for further study.

Now I'm comparing what was written as an ancestor's occupation/industry to what the codes say, at the far right of each line. These codes were added much later in the process as the government tabulated and analyzed 1950 Census data.

Travel agent = 300 (agent)

My entrepreneurial father (Harold Burk) and his brother (Sidney Burk), who lived a few doors away from each other in the Bronx, were travel agents in my Dad's travel business. At top is an excerpt from their Census page. 

Both were coded as O (working in own business), occupation 300 (agents), industry 808 (miscellaneous business services), and 3 (class code for "own business"). 

Steve Morse & Joel Weintraub decipher the codes 

The reason I was able to decipher these codes easily, as shown above, was by looking them up on a very convenient page provided by Steve Morse and Joel Weintraub, found here

Codes are particularly important when the enumerator's handwriting is unclear or the occupation or industry aren't legible. Just plug in the codes and see, at least in a general way, what our ancestors said they did for work.

More specific coding?

The 1950 Census training manual stressed that enumerators were to be as clear and specific as possible when recording occupation/industry. In fact, what the enumerator listed as occupation/industry for my Dad and uncle was quite specific. 

Yet the coding of this information was anything but specific, IMHO. 

So I looked up the occupation "travel agent" in the official Alphabetical Listing of Occupations and Industries from 1950 (link here leads to a pdf), where all the numerical codes are shown. 

The snippet from "travel agent" shown above says:

  • "300" correctly corresponds to the general category of agents.
  • "Ind" indicates that the next set of numbers will be "industry." 
  • "568" is an industry code for services incidental to transportation.

Surely 568 would have been a better classification for my father's travel agent business than, say, 808 = miscellaneous business services?

For more about the 1950 US Census, please see my summary page here.


  1. Wow, this is just great! I'm planning to take a more detailed look at the 1950 census occupations of my ancestors and collateral relatives. This post is extremely helpful.

  2. This is very helpful. Thank you for sharing this. (And thank you, Steve Morse and Joel Weintraub, as always!) Now when I look at the census, I'll look up these codes.

  3. Wow, how insiteful! I briefly looked up some of the codes before I wrote my 1950 Census blog and looked up my family in the census, but not for occupations! I'll have to go back and take a look now! ;)