Mark your calendar for 1 April 2022 – not because it is April Fool’s Day – but because the National Archives will release the 1950 U.S. Federal Census on that day. What will this census offer us as genealogists? How can we access the data? How should we prepare? Let’s consider each of these questions in turn.
What Information will the 1950 U.S. Federal Census Hold?
The United States Census Bureau has made the 1950 Census of Population and Housing – Population Form available for download in hi-resolution.1 The U.S. Constitution requires a census every ten years with the first census taken in 1790. Depending on what information the government wanted to gather for the citizens, the questions changed. The 1950 census is no different. The form is similar to the 1940 census form and includes three main sections for the “head of household,” all persons,” and “persons 14 years of age and over.” The form has six sample lines and people enumerated on those lines answered additional questions which are listed at the bottom of the form. We can hope that at least one member of our family was listed on a sample line and has expanded information.
Here’s a breakdown of the categories.
For Head of Household
We’ll discover if our family members lived on a farm or ranch of three acres or more. We’ll also get the specific house or apartment number.
For All Persons
The names of household members were to be listed in a specific order and relationships were noted. Race, sex, age on last birthday, marital status, and birthplace were noted. Naturalization information was answered with only a yes, no, or AP (American Patriot) in the case of a person born abroad. Although this seems odd, consider all the babies born abroad during and after World War II, who by 1950 would have been children listed on the 1950 census.
For Persons 14 Years of Age and Over
This section highlights how an individual spent their time in the previous week: working, keeping house, etc. The occupation and industry were filled in.
Sample Lines Questions
The bottom third of the sheet states several questions that only six sampled individuals on a page answered. We’ll find out if a person lived in the same house, farm or county, a year ago. If answered no, the residence of the previous year was listed. Questions about the parent’s country of birth, the individual’s level of education, and whether the person attended school since February 1st were also answered. For persons over 14, additional questions about employment and salary were asked. If male, information about military service was noted. Finally, marital status and number of children borne for a female were asked.
How Can We Access the 1950 Census?
The National Archives will release the 1950 census images in April of 2022.2 We’ll be able to download specific sections of the census from the National Archives website – organized by state, county, and enumeration district. Other websites such as FamilySearch and Ancestry.com will then publish these images and begin name-indexing them.
FamilySearch will start with a computer-generated index that volunteers can verify and correct prior to the publication of the index on FamilySearch. If you’re interested in helping with this monumental task, FamilySearch will be sharing an invitation to learn more about the 1950 census and how to be part of the indexing process at RootsTech 2022. Learn more at the FamilySearch page, “1950 U.S. Census.”
Since an every-name index won’t be available at first, we’ll need to search by enumeration district. You have probably seen the enumeration district (E.D.) noted at the top of the census forms from 1880 on. The census bureau divided counties by E.D. and a single census taker was to canvas that district within the census period.
In the screenshot below of a 1940 census form, the E.D. number 16-20 is shown in the top right corner. My grandparent’s E.R. and Florence Kelsey lived in Declo, Idaho, from 1918 on and this census shows five of the six children at home.3 Just two years later, all three sons would be fighting in World War II on the Pacific front. All three survived the war and will be in the 1950 census in their own households. Although I knew my grandparents and aunts and uncles well, it will be fascinating to see a snapshot of the family in April of 1950.
Notice the difference in the headings and questions asked in 1940 versus 1950.
Finding the Enumeration District
We have a great tool to use on the website, stevemorse.org, to easily search and view map images of the 1950 enumeration districts.4 The maps are hosted on the National Archives website, but using stevemorse.org makes it much easier to find the appropriate maps.
Knowing the location of my grandparent’s home, I entered the search terms Idaho and Cassia County. The website returned a link to view the maps on the National Archive website and direct links to images from the website’s server. It also explains the advantages and disadvantages of both. I can view the maps to see if I can determine the 1950 E.D.
I hypothesized that my grandparents would not be in the Burley enumeration district but in one of the Cassia County – Cassia County districts. By opening each one from the stevemorse.org website, I pinpointed where my grandparent’s home was located. The following map shows the Snake River, highway 30, the Pacific Railroad, and the community of Springdale – all points of interest I know well from growing up in this area.5 I learned that my grandparent’s home was located in the same E.D. in 1950 as in 1940: 16-20.
Armed with the knowledge that my grandparents will be enumerated in E.D. 16-20, I can then search for the appropriate batch of census records to search once the images are released. The records will likely be organized similarly to the 1940 census. The screenshot below shows the 1940 batch of census pages for ED 16-20 for Idaho, Cassia County.6 The batch includes 32 pages, one of which contains my grandparents. The country’s population had grown by 1950 so there will likely be more pages in the enumeration district, but even so, it will be an adventure to browse the pages looking for my family.
How to Prepare
Now that you know that initial searching will be by enumeration district, how can you prepare? You’ll need to narrow down the location for each family or individual you’d like to find. If you don’t know an exact location. It’s time to put on your genealogist’s hat and get to work. Here are some steps to try out.
Step 1: Identify
Identify the family members you’d like to find on the 1950 census. This could include yourself, siblings, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, and extended family. Make a list in a table or spreadsheet then add information about each one such as their known location in 1940, a possible location in 1950, occupation, marital status, etc.
Step 2: Ask
Ask family members to help you figure out the answers to your questions. Use photographs, letters, diaries, scrapbooks, etc. to make timelines for people and determine a place of residence.
Step 3: Research
Once you have a basic timeline for the family, use available records to pin them down. City directories, phone books, newspapers, obituaries, school records, vital records, social security applications, World War II draft registrations, and naturalization records all have addresses or locations.
Be sure to study the article, “Getting Ready for the 1950 Census: Searching With and Without a Name Index,” available on stevemorse.org.7 The authors give additional information and screenshots about the 1950 census. And, of course, visit the One-Step Webpages website by Stephen P. Morse for a myriad of tools on the census.
Joel Weintraub, an expert on the 1950 census has recorded a series of videos that you can access on his YouTube Channel JDW Talks.
How are you preparing for the 1950 census? Leave a comment and share your ideas.
Best of luck in all your genealogical endeavors!
- “1950 Census of Population and Housing – Population Form,” United States Census Bureau (https://www.census.gov/library/photos/1950a.html : accessed 22 December 2021).
- Hilary Parkinson, 1950 Census on Track for 2022 Release, Despite Pandemic,” National Archives News, archives.gov (https://www.archives.gov/news/articles/1950-census-pandemic : accessed 22 December 2022).
- 1940 U.S. Census, Cassia County, Idaho, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 16-20, sheet 8-B, dwelling 101, E.R. Kelsey; digital image, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QS7-L9M1-9S71 : accessed 22 December 2021); citing NARA microfilm publication T627.
- Stephen P. Morse & Joel D. Weintraub, “Unified Census ED Finder,” stevemorse.org (https://stevemorse.org/census/unified.html : accessed 22 December 2021).
- 1950 Census Enumeration District Map, Idaho-Cassia County-ED16-1 to 37, SteveMorse.org (https://stevemorse.org/census/arc1940-1950edmaps.php : accessed 21 December 2021).
- “1940 Census Population Schedules – Idaho – Cassia County – ED 16-20,” National Archives Catalog (https://catalog.archives.gov/id/131144633 : accessed 22 December 2021).
- Stephen P. Morse and Joel D. Weintraub, “Getting Ready for the 1950 Census: Searching With and Without a Name Index,” stevemorse.org (https://stevemorse.org/census/1950census.htm : accessed 22 December 2021)