Resources for 1950 Census


The 1950 U.S. Census was released on April 1st, 2022! You can search or browse on the U.S. National Archives page here. NARA has lots of top-notch resources on its website here. Other 1950 access methods: via FamilySearch.org and MyHeritage.com and Ancestry.com.

Let me recommend more resources for background:
Measuring America: The Decennial Censuses from 1790 to 2000, can be downloaded for free in pdf format from this link.
Urban & Rural Enumerator's Reference Manual for the 1950 US Census, can be read or browsed for free from this link. Another free way into the same manual is through HathiTrust on this link

Here are my blog posts about preparing for the 1950 US Census release and my experiences actually searching/browsing for ancestors in that mid-century Census:

  • Last-minute news about the Census release
  • What works? My tips for finding folks now that 1950 Census is available on NARA site.
  • How to "decode" those numerical codes about occupation and industry, shown at far right of 1950 US Census page where enumerator asked about work.
  • Prepping for the browse-only release of the Census is almost as easy as 1-2-3. Here are the three steps to follow to prepare for browsing before indexing. 
  • Window into post-war America: Brief overview of some questions asked in the 1950 Census. Everyone in the household was listed by name and relationship to head of household. Race, sex, marital status, age, where born, whether naturalized. 
  • Think like an enumerator: If you browse the official training manual, you'll understand what to expect from the Census records. For instance, when an enumerator might make the notation: "Information given by a neighbor." (written 1/2020)
  • What did ancestors say in the 1950 Census? Some questions weren't well designed for post-war America. An example: Only males 14 and older were to be asked about their military service. My aunt was a WAC in WWII. Did she answer? UPDATE: She was not asked! )
  • Enumerators to add notations and detailed answers: If they think a respondent is not being truthful, they're supposed to note that. And they did: See my later post here.
  • Census Day wasn't fixed as April 1st until 1930 Census. Keeping Census dates in mind helps to narrow down possible timing of marriages and deaths when looking for documentation. 
  • Comparing ancestors' answers with national averages. According to 1950 Census statistics, the median income was $2,619 in 1949. 
  • New answer alternatives and new *assumptions* to be aware of in the 1950 Census--understand the fine print!
  • Where were you born? For people from Canada, answer depended on whether they spoke French when arriving in US. Also Census was concerned about naming birthplaces according to 1950 national borders.
  • Infant Card filled out for each baby born in Jan-Feb-March 1950 includes lots of valuable info, including mother's maiden name, father's occupation etc., birth order of baby, and much more. HOWEVER, NARA does not have these cards and therefore Infant Cards will NOT be released when the population schedule is publicly released, unfortunately.
  • When was Census Day? It wasn't always April 1st (as it was in 1950). Originally, it was the "first Monday in August" until changed to a fixed date. 
  • Listing ancestors as part of plan to browse the 1950 Census before indexing and transcription are completed in 2022.
  • Finding a specific address is key to being able to browse 1950 Census images before full indexing. Ideas for searching!
  • Turning a specific address into an Enumeration District using the Steve Morse Unified ED Census Finder--an incredibly powerful tool. Another specific step by step demonstration here.
  • If the address is rural, you may need to check the NARA ED maps! Here's how.
  • Check local newspapers for April 1, 1950 news--maybe your ancestor was an enumerator or interviewed about the Census?!
  • Using RootsMagic7 "Who Was There" list to generate report of ancestors who lived in a certain place in 1950. Generating "who was there" for Cleveland.
  • May 1 was "moving day" in NYC, Chicago, other big U.S. cities. So I'm trying to find addresses for urban ancestors that are in May 1949 or later, as I prep for browsing in the 1950 Census.
  • Slightly different process for finding EDs for small towns--here's a step-by-step explanation, illustrated.
  • Read the supplemental enumerator's manual to learn about how people who were in (or worked for) hospitals, institutions, etc. were enumerated. 
  • Who enumerators were not to count when visiting a residential ED, and how enumerators were given advance info about apartment buildings.
  • Were ancestors quoted in newspaper giving opinions about Census? Was Fido enumerated in a family household? Doing newspaper research from 1950!
  • Will the enumerators specify your ancestors' occupations in extra detail? UPDATE: Census showed my dad and his brother as travel agents!
  • Specific street address details make the difference between having to browse multiple EDs and narrowing the focus to one ED.
  • Interpreting answers to the 1950 Census by comparison with national averages, regional trends, and family history.
  • Interpreting answers in context: Many more women worked outside the home in 1950 compared with 1940. What about my female ancestors?
  • My experiment: finding a farmer in the 1950 Census by looking for a street address (ha) and narrowing down EDs to browse.
  • Happy to see new, more specific codes for educational grade attained by Census respondent.
  • Once 1950 Census is available, remember to save the page where your ancestor appears and cite your source! And don't forget to look at line number of your ancestor, then check bottom of page to see if ancestor answered "sample" questions.
  • Census Bureau knew about "age errors" -- interesting that there were more people 65 and older than expected!
  • You can use state-by-state Census reports to see the median income for your ancestor's state (urban and rural areas broken out separately) as context.
  • If my cousin Frank M. Jacobs was living at the Hotel Tudor in April of 1950, he might have been enumerated during T-Night. UPDATE: I browsed and didn't find him at all, now awaiting full indexing to locate this ancestor.
  • NARA is going to be using artificial intelligence to read the handwritten names on the 1950 Census and create a basic searchable index.
  • Was your ancestor asked "sample" questions? Look at the bottom of the 1950 population schedule page to find out! (Note: no names on sample lines.)
  • As background, check out ads used to promote the Census and filmstrips used to teach enumerators about how to conduct the count.
  • Where can you find city directories to look up ancestor's 1950 street addresses? Ideas here.
  • In the United States, Social Security tracks the most popular given names of every decade. See the top 10 names in the 1940s and 1950s here.
  • Learn how to use both NARA maps and NARA descriptions when determining the Enumeration District for an ancestor (especially in a big city).
  • Check the NARA maps for mention of landmarks and special EDs!
  • NARA's search advice: look for head of household in initial name index because it will show both surname and given name.
  • About those "sample of sample" questions, answered by one person out of the 30 enumerated on each Census sheet.
  • How to add transcriptions to the US National Archives index of the 1950 US Census.
  • 1950 US Census hints are showing up...how to filter to see certain ancestors.
Cyndi's List has a page of 1950 Census resources and sites with updates to check as the release date approaches. (I'm honored that this page is on her list!)

For an incredible amount of step-by-step instructions and background on the 1950 US Census, do not miss Joel Weintraub's YouTube Channel, filled with informative videos.

Wondering why US Census data isn't released for 72 years? US Census Bureau has the answer here.

Population change, 1940-50, in United States

4 comments:

  1. Thanks for the plug for our article. The One-Step site has now over 130,000 searchable 1950 ED (enumeration district) definitions, and over 2,400 urban area street lists within EDs for cities over 5,000 in 1950. Our Unified Tool is ready now to deliver an ED # if you have a location. In addition, I have put 5 videos on the 1950 census on YouTube including one showing how to use our tools. See https://stevemorse.org/jdw.html

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  2. So much great information here! Thanks for your tips and links and thanks for the shout out! Looking forward to see what you discover in the 1950 census.

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  3. I started reading the enumerator instructions. I wonder where we can find the maps the enumerator made marks on, especially in rural areas (pp 4-5). It would be cool to find those!

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  4. AnonymousJune 06, 2021

    A NARA staff member is also blogging about 1950 on the History Hub. https://historyhub.history.gov/community/genealogy/census-records/blog

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