Click the video player to watch episode 54 of Elevenses with Lisa about the 1890 census and substitute records. Below you’ll find the detailed show notes with all the website links I mention. Premium Members will find the downloadable ad-free PDF cheat sheet of these show notes at the bottom of this page in the Resources section, along with my BONUS 1890 Census Gap Worksheet.
What Happened to the 1890 Census
The census shows us our ancestors grouped in families, making it a valuable resource for genealogy. Soon the 1950 census will be available, but for now the most current census publicly available in 1940. In it we may find, depending on our age, ourselves, our parents, our grandparents, and our great parents. In many cases it’s quick and rewarding to make your way back in time to the 1890 census which was taken starting June 1, 1890. And that’s where the trail hits a bump. In January 1921 a large fire broke out in the Commerce Building in Washington DC where the 1890 census records were stored, and most were destroyed as a result. Only 6,160 individual names remain in the remnants. (Learn more about the destruction of the 1890 census at the National Archives.)
Prior to the 1890 U.S. Federal Census, the last census taken was in 1880. With about 99% of the 1890 being destroyed as the result of the fire, this leaves a 20 year gap in the census (1880 – 1900.)
Much can happen in a span of twenty years. For example, your ancestors could have been born and reached adulthood. Filling in their timeline for this period requires a bit more effort, but the results are worth it.
In this video and article we’ll cover:
How to find the remaining fragments of the 1890 population enumeration
What you can learn from the 1890 census records
Lesser known 1890 census schedules that can still be found.
The best 1890 substitute records and how to find them.
Surviving 1890 Federal Census Population Schedules
A very small portion of the 1890 census has survived, but it’s more than just the population schedule. Here are the six types of records still available.
List of the locations covered by the surviving 1890 federal census:
Alabama: Perryville Beat No.11 (Perry County) and Severe Beat No.8 (Perry County)
District of Columbia: Q Street, 13th St., 14th St., R Street, Q Street, Corcoran St., 15th St., S Street, R Street, and Riggs Street, Johnson Avenue, and S Street
Georgia: Columbus (Muscogee County)
Illinois: Mound Township (McDonough County)
Minnesota: Rockford (Wright County)
New Jersey: Jersey City (Hudson County)
New York: Brookhaven Township (Suffolk County) and Eastchester (Westchester County)
North Carolina: South Point and River Bend Townships (Gaston County), Township No. 2 (Cleveland County)
Ohio: Cincinnati (Hamilton County) and Wayne Township (Clinton County)
South Dakota: Jefferson Township (Union County)
Texas: J.P. No. 6, Mountain Peak, Ovilla Precinct (Ellis County), Precinct No. 5 (Hood County), No. 6 and J.P. No. 7 (Rusk County), Trinity Town and Precinct No. 2 (Trinity County), and Kaufman (Kaufman County)
Questions Asked in the 1890 U.S. Federal Census The following questions were asked by the census taker:
Number of families in the house
Number of persons in the house
Number of persons in the family
Relationship to head of family
Race: white, black, mulatto, quadroon, octoroon, Chinese, Japanese, or Indian
Whether married during the year
Total children born to mother
Number of children living
Birthplace of parents
If foreign born, how many years in the United States
Naturalized or in the process of naturalization
Profession, trade, or occupation
Months unemployed during census year
Able to read and write
Speak English; if not, language or dialect spoken
Suffering from acute or chronic disease (if so, name of disease and length of time afflicted)
Defective in mind, sight, hearing, or speech
Crippled, maimed, or deformed (with name of defect)
Prisoner, convict, homeless child, or pauper
Home is rented or owned by the head or a member of the family
(if so, whether mortgaged)
Head of family a farmer, if he or a family member rented or owned the farm
If mortgaged, the post office address of the owner
2. Schedules for Union Soldiers & Widows
According to the National Archives, “The U.S. Pension Office requested this special enumeration to help Union veterans locate comrades to testify in pension claims and to determine the number of survivors and widows for pension legislation. (Some congressmen also thought it scientifically useful to know the effect of various types of military service upon veterans’ longevity.) To assist in the enumeration, the Pension Office prepared a list of veterans’ names and addresses from their files and from available military records held by the U.S. War Department.
Index and images of schedules enumerating Union veterans and widows of veterans of the Civil War for the states of Kentucky through Wyoming. Except for some miscellaneous returns, data for the states of Alabama through Kansas do not exist. Some returns include U.S. Naval Vessels and Navy Yards. The schedules are from Record Group 15, Records of the Veterans Administration and is NARA publication M123.
Nearly all of the schedules for the states of Alabama through Kansas and approximately half of those for Kentucky appear to have been destroyed before transfer of the remaining schedules to the National Archives in 1943.”
The 1890 Oklahoma Territorial Census lists people who lived in the Oklahoma Territory. The seven counties making up the Oklahoma Territory at the time are listed below. Note the number as they were often listed only by these number on the census.
One of the primary uses of the census by the government is to compile statistical reports using the data gathered. Many of these can be found online at places like Google Books.
The Delaware African American Schedule came about because of one of these statistical reports. According to the National Archives, in 1901 the Chief Statistician for Agriculture wrote a report about agriculture in the state of Delaware. Just before it was to be published, some of the conclusions reached in the report were disputed. The controversy centered around what was then referred to as “Negro” farmers. The results was that additional research was conducted in an effort to find all “Negro” farmers in the 1890 and 1900 Delaware census records. The dust up over the statistical report was fortunate indeed because these records are now available.
The list is roughly in alphabetical order according to surname and contains the following information:
Enumeration District (ED) Number
ED Description (locality and county)
5. Statistics of Lutheran Congregation & Statistical Information for the U.S.
These record collection offers limited usefulness because they don’t name people. However, if you have questions about Lutheran ancestors around 1890 or would like more contextual information about the time period, they might be worth a look.
Statistics of Lutheran Congregation reproduces a list of each Lutheran church or local organization compiled by the Census Office from information submitted by officials of the Lutheran officials.
How to find the records:
The National Archives – Contact the National Archives regarding National Archives Microfilm Publication M2073, Statistics of Congregations of Lutheran Synods, 1890 (1 roll). Records are arranged by synod, then state, then locality.
For each church or local organization, the following information is given in seven columns:
(1) town or city
(3) name of organization
(4) number or type of church edifice
(5) seating capacity
(6) value of church property
(7) number of members.
6. Statistical information for the entire United States
Statistical reports were compiled and analyzed by the Census Office after the 1890 census was completed. These massive statistical reports are available in National Archives Microfilm Publication T825, Publications of the Bureau of the Census.
Now that we’ve scoured every inch of available records remaining from the 1890 U.S. Federal Census, it’s time to go on the hunt for substitute records. We’ll be focusing on the best available and easiest to find resources.
1885 & 1895 State Census Records:
The U.S. federal government was not alone in taking the census. Some states also took their own state census. These were usually conducted in the years between the federal censuses, most commonly on the “5” such as 1875, and 1885. You may find some as far back as 1825 and as recent as 1925, as in the case of the state of New York.
How to find the records:
Look for state census records at state archives, state historical societies, and state libraries. Many are also conveniently searchable online, most commonly at FamilySearch (free) and Ancestry (subscription.)
Lisa’s Pro Tip: Get a Bit More with Mortality Schedules
Do you happen to have someone in your family tree who was alive and well in the 1880 census but nowhere to be found in the 1900 census? Official death records may not have been available during this time frame where they lived, compounding the problem.
The U.S. Federal Censuses from 1850-1880 included a mortality schedule counting the people who had died in the previous year. Since the 1880 census began on June 1, “previous year” means the 12 months preceding June 1, or June 1 (of the previous year) to May 31 (of the census year).
Ancestry has a database of these schedules which fall just before the 20 year time frame we are trying to fill. However, this collection also happens to include Mortality Schedules from three State Censuses: Colorado, Florida and Nebraska. There were conducted in 1885. They weren’t mandatory so there are only a few, but if you happen to be researching in one of these states, you just might get lucky.
While you’re searching, be aware that not all of the information recorded on the census is included in the searchable index. This means that it is important to view the image and don’t just rely on the indexed information.
Ancestry 1890 Census Substitute Database
Ancestry has compiled a special searchable collection of records that can be used to fill in the gaps left behind by the loss of the 1890 census. It includes state census collections, city directories, voter registrations and more.
Find More 1890 Census Substitute Records at Ancestry
This substitute collection is a tremendous help, but don’t stop there. You can also manually hunt for substitute records to see if there might be something helpful that is overlooked in the 1890 census substitute search. This works particularly well if you have a specific research question in mind.
You might be wondering, why would I need to search manually? Many people rely on Ancestry hints to alert them to applicable records, and they figure the search engine will find the rest.
This is a mistake for two reasons.
only approximately 10% of Ancestry® Records Appear as hints.
There may be a record that meets your needs that was not captured in the 1890 Census Substitute Collection. Try going directly to the Card Catalog and filtering to USA and then by decade such as 1890s.
FamilySearch 1890 Census Substitutes
While FamilySearch doesn’t have one massive substitute database, you can find several focused 1890 census substitute collections available online, at Family History Centers around the country and world, and in book form at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City.
How to find the records: 1. Go to FamilySearch 2. Log into your free account
3. In the menu go to Search > Catalog 4. Click Titles 5. Search for 1890 census substitute 6. If desired, filter down to records available or at a Family History Center near you.
City Directories as an 1890 Census Substitute
Some of the best and most comprehensive substitute records are city directories. If published in your ancestor’s area when they lived there, they can offer a year-by-year record. And that can do wonders for filling in the gap between the 1880 and 1800 census.
How to find the records:
You can find city directories at the big genealogy websites like Ancestry, MyHeritage and FamilySearch, as well as state archives, historical societies and libraries. Google searches also come in very handy in unearthing lesser known websites and repositories. Two of my favorite places to look that are both free and online are Google Books and Internet Archive.
Google Books Search for the state and county. On the results page click the Tools The first option in the drop-down menu will be Any View. Change it to Full View. The third option is Any Time. Click the down arrow and select Custom Range and set it to 1880 through 1890.
Episode 30: Lisa’s 10 surprising things to find at Google Books
The census is the backbone of genealogical research. Here in the United States it gives us a cohesive look at our ancestors every 10 years between 1790 and 1940. And now there is a new census on the horizon!
The 1950 census is an exciting one because it may include your great grandparents, grandparents, parents and perhaps even you! It will provide opportunities to confirm some of what we already know and clues for new research.
This week brings us to the one year mark before the release of the 1950 census in April 2022. Now is the perfect time to familiarize ourselves with it and start preparing. In this free webinar on the Genealogy Gems YouTube channel we’re going to do just that! In Elevenses with Lisa episode 51 you will learn:
the interesting and little known stories behind the 1950 census,
what it can reveal about your family, (and who you will NOT find!)
the important documents associated with it that you can access right now!
Get the HD version by clicking the gear icon in the video player.
What You Can Learn About Your Family from the 1950 Census
The 1950 Census may be able to answer all kinds of questions for you such as:
Where was your family living in 1950?
Did you have American relatives living abroad?
What did your relatives do for a living?
What was their household income in 1949?
The 1950 census also stands out because it ushered in some new features and data collection improvements with the goal of providing more complete and accurate information than ever before.
This census can help you confirm information you already have about your family while also providing new facts and clues for further genealogical research.
So, let’s dig into the 1950 US census. Oh wait…we better hold our horses! The 1950 census isn’t available yet!
When will the 1950 census be released?
The official census day in 1950 was April 1. So as of April 2021 we are one year away from the release of the 1950 Census. However, it’s never too soon to get acquainted with this important genealogical record. There’s a lot we can do to get ready to research when it’s released by the National Archives in April 2022. That will be 72 years after the official 1950 census day.
So why don’t we get to see the 1950 census until 72 years have passed?
The “72-Year Rule” became law in 1978 (92 Stat. 915; Public Law 95-416; October 5, 1978). It restricts access to decennial census records to only the person named on the record or their legal heir.
Why is there a “72-Year Rule” for the Census?
It’s long been believed that the rule was based on the average life-expectancy at the time. However, that may not be the case at all. Letters at the National Archives dating back to 1952 from the census bureau director and the archivist of the U.S. support the rule, but don’t say what it’s based on. Joel Weintraub’s essay Why the 72 Year Rule for U.S. Census Privacy? proposes that the rule evolved for a variety of reasons when the National Archives was first created.
The bottom line: For now, we have to wait until 2022 for the 1950 U.S. Federal Census.
Who was counted during the 1950 census?
In addition to Americans living here in the States, for the first time Americans abroad were enumerated in 1950. This included:
members of the armed forces,
crews on vessels at sea,
and employees of the United States government and their families living in foreign countries.
Sailors and soldiers serving overseas were counted in the 1950 census.
Be aware that there were other people living abroad at that time who didn’t fall within these official categories. In those cases, they were to be reported by their families or even neighbors who lived in the U.S. This was clearly second-hand information which means that the information wasn’t as reliable. In fact, so much so that these individuals weren’t included in the published statistics. Keep this possibility in mind if you have trouble locating a relative when the census comes out.
What Questions Were Asked in the 1950 Census?
The 1950 population census questionnaire asked for information such as:
whether their house was on a farm;
relationship to the head of the household;
birthplace if they were foreign born,
whether or not they were naturalized;
their employment status;
how many hours they worked in a week;
and class of worker.
The information provided by your ancestors has the potential to lead you to more genealogical records.
Geographic Areas Covered in the 1950 Census
So where were all these people living? The 1950 census covered:
the continental United States,
the territories of Alaska and Hawaii,
the Canal Zone,
the Virgin Islands of the United States,
and some of the smaller island territories.
1950 Census Enumerators
In 1950 the population of the United States was about ½ of the population today. But it still took a lot of people and organization to count 150 million people. The people doing the counting are called enumerators. These enumerators came from all walks of life and had to be trained so that everyone got counted with the fewest mistakes possible. A technical training program was developed to accomplish this goal. 26 chief instructors would teach a few hundred instructors to train 8300 crew leaders who would ultimately train over 140,000 census enumerators.
The 1950 census enumerator training program. (Source: census.gov)
1950 Census Enumeration District Maps
You may be wondering ‘how did the enumerators know where to go to count people?’ The answer is Enumeration Districts or EDs. The geographic area to be covered by the enumerator was divided up into Enumeration Districts. These ensured that enumerators were not crossing paths and duplicating efforts. EDs were just the right size so that the census taker could cover the area in one census period, which was about 2-4 weeks.
Enumeration District maps were drawn for the 1950 census. These are important for your genealogy research because they:
describe your ancestors’ neighborhood in 1950
are essential for figuring out where to find your ancestor in the census.
don’t fall under the 72-year rule, which means that they are available now.
It takes time for the entire census to be indexed. If you want to start using it as soon as it’s released, you will need ED maps. You’ll need to know where your relatives lived so that you can find the address on the ED map. The map will provide you with the associated ED number. This number is needed to search the unindexed census.
Up until 1870 the job of census taker fell to the U.S. Marshals. The U.S. Marshalls received very little in the way of instructions or training. It wasn’t until 1830 that they even got printed schedules to record the information given by each household! That all changed with an act of congress passed in 1879 that shifted the job to people specifically hired to be enumerators. This was just in time for the 1880 census.
By 1950, 140,000 census enumerators hit the field armed with their Enumeration District map showing them where to canvas, and a lengthy set of instructions that they received during their training. In fact, 1950 was the last time that the census was taken exclusively in person because in 1960 the Census Bureau started mailing out questionnaires.
The 1950 census enumerator instructions are available for free as a downloadable and searchable PDF file. It’s 24 pages of specific instructions designed to help enumerators record the information they gathered.
The enumerator instructions are important for you as a researcher because they explain what you’re seeing on the census page. If we see a mark or a notation, or a field left blank, the instructions will explain why the census did it that way. If we understand the why behind the information we find we will be much more likely to interpret it correctly.
An example of this can be found in the 1940 census. You’ve probably noticed X’s in circles scattered about the pages. On a map that could be misinterpreted as there’s buried treasure in that house! But alas, it doesn’t. Only the census enumerator instructions can help us really understand their true and important meaning. The 1940 census enumerator instructions state “Enter (X in a circle) after name of person furnishing information.” This helps us better determine the validity of the information provided for each individual in the household.
Who Was Not Counted in the 1950 Census?
The instructions for the 1950 census also includes a list of those people who were not to be enumerated, such as:
People temporarily visiting the household
Foreign citizens visiting embassies and similar facilities. Do enumerate foreigners who are studying or working here temporarily.
Students below college level who are boarding to attend school locally.
College students visiting but who live elsewhere to attend school.
People who eat with the family but don’t sleep there.
Domestic workers who don’t sleep in the household.
Household members who are currently an inmate in prison or other institution.
Ship crew members or people who live in lighthouses
Absent Soldiers and sailors
What are 1950 Census Infant Cards?
There’s also an entire page in the instructions devoted to explaining what Infant Cards were and the information they were to contain. If you have relatives who were born in January, February or March of 1950, they would have had a special Infant Card completed just for them. Learn more: Download the infant card PDF
1950 census infant card.
How Accurate is the 1950 US Census?
Several procedures were put in place in an effort to dramatically improve the accuracy and completeness of the 1950 census. These included:
improved enumerator training,
providing enumerators with detailed street maps of their assigned areas,
publishing “Missed Person” forms in local newspapers,
and setting aside specific days to conduct a special enumeration of people staying in hotels, motor courts, and other places frequented by transient people.
Also, in an effort to ensure greater accuracy and completeness, a post-enumeration survey was instituted for the first time. The Census Bureau recanvassed a sample of approximately 3,500 small areas and compared these to the original census listings. The goal was to identify households that might have been omitted in the original enumeration. They also took a sample of about 22,000 households and reinterviewed them to determine the number of people who might have been missed in the first count.
How Were Transient People Counted in the 1950 Census?
The challenge of counting people is that people can move around. This means they could be counted twice, or the genealogist’s nightmare: not counted at all!
The solution to counting transient people in the 1950 census was T-Night canvasses. The “T” stood for “transient” and they were held on Tuesday April 11 & Thursday April 13, 1950. They were designed to provide a more accurate count of people who did not have a fixed address or were temporarily away from home.
“Transient” enumerations were conducted on specially designated days in 1950. (source: census.gov)
Tuesday, April 11, 1950 was the date for “an intensive drive to cover in a single night the occupants of certain places usually devoted to transients” such as hotels, YMCAs, and tourist courts or camps (campgrounds). Young men were moving to the city from rural areas, and the YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association) was a popular, safe and affordable place to stay. By 1940 YMCA room across the country totaled more than 100,000.
According to the instructions, enumerators were to visit these facilities from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Tuesday evening and again from 7 a.m. to 12 noon the next day. On Thursday, April 13, 1950 enumerators turned their attention to missions and flophouses. T-Night enumerators assigned to these facilities were to “station themselves at the main entrance or the lobby of the place” and instructed to interview guests, resident staff and employees personally.
Another unique feature of T-Nights was that enumerators used the Individual Census Report Form (ICR). In an unusual move, it was completed by the person being counted instead of by the census taker. This ensured privacy for the informant since census interviews often had to be conducted in hallways or a room with other roomers. Thanks to the 1950 census enumerators working the hotel lobby, asking guests passing through if they had already completed an ICR, calling up guests on the house phone and working with staff on identifying those checking in, there’s an even better chance that we will find our family members in the 1950 census.
What Does “REG” mean on the 1950 Census?
Even after all of this extra effort, some people never completed the ICR form. In those cases, the enumerator would fill out the ICR on information taken from the hotel register. The entry on the census would be marked “REG” indicating that the information came from the hotel register.
The 1950 Census Residential Survey
A new feature of the 1950 census was the Residential Survey. In a separate surveying effort, information was collected on a sample basis from owners of owner-occupied and rental properties and mortgage lenders.
1950 Census Technology Trivia
According to the National Archives, “The Census Bureau began use of the first non-military computer shortly after completing the 1950 enumeration. UNIVAC I (for Universal Automatic Computer), the first of a series, was delivered in 1951, and helped tabulate some of the statistics for the 1954 economic censuses. It weighed 16,000 pounds and used 5,000 vacuum tubes.”
5 Things to Do While Waiting for the 1950 US Federal Census
Looking for something to do now while you wait for the 1950 census? Here are just a few things you can do while you wait:
1. Review your family tree. Make a list of those families you want to look up. And look for gaps and questions that might be able to be answered using the 1950 census.
2. Look for 1950 family addresses.
Social Security Records
1940 census addresses
3. Use the One-Step website to find Enumeration District Numbers
Enter the state and town to retrieve the map
Find your ancestor’s address on the map
Make note of the ED number written on the map for that address
Note: The One-Step website includes some maps not found at the National Archives!
4. Download the Enumeration District Map for your Ancestor’s Home Again, you can access the maps through the One-Step website or the National Archives website. These are excellent research resources to have on hand. They can be used to create map overlays in the Google Earth Pro software. Step-by-step instructions for doing so can be found in my book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox and my downloadable video tutorial series Google Earth for Genealogy.
5. Check out the 1790 through 1940 census records online at the National Archives. Census records can be found at many popular genealogy websites. The National Archives has a great resource page listing each decennial census and the associated online resources including where census images are hosted and searchable for free or on subscription websites. It also includes additional resources and background on each census taken.
The 1950 US federal census is going to be released on April 1 of 2022. And getting the records fully indexed, and therefore searchable is going to take a little bit of time.
If you’re anxious to get digging into the records, you’re going to need to know a couple of things like where your ancestors lived. You’ll also find the enumeration district, or what’s called the ED number.
Thankfully, Steve Morris has developed a terrific free online tool at his One-Step Webpages website that can help you find those ED numbers.
00:54 Lisa: Wow, it’s a really big year for you! I imagine it is every 10 years or so when a new census record comes out, right?
01:03 Steve: Well, yes, we’re doing what we can to get ready (for the release of the 1950 U.S. Federal Census.) I’m trying to get the interfaces to tie into the actual census pages when they come online. So that’s been a big activity right now.
01:17 Lisa: Let’s talk about that. I want to talk about the website and how people can use it. And of course, I’d love to know even more about you. First of all, why do you call it One-Step Webpages?
The History of One-Step Webpages
01:33 Steve: That goes back to the origins of the site back in 2001.
The first major tool that I put up on the site was (designed for) researching the Ellis Island database. That database had just come online at that time. I was anxious to use it because there was some real answers that I had not been able to find up until then.
But when I got into it, I realized it was very difficult to use. And I saw that I could do everything they were doing in one step many steps on their website. So, without giving it too much thought, I put up my own tool, which was called Searching the Ellis Island Database in One-Step. I didn’t realize that by choosing that name, I become branded. All tools hereafter have that One-Step name now, and it became known as the One-Step website.
If I realized the significance of that choice of name, I might have gone with my second choice which was Searching the Ellis Island Database with Fewer Tears. And in which case, we would now have the Fewer Tears website! But we have the one we’re stuck with, the One Step website.
02:37 Lisa: Well, I’d say the One-Step site certainly does mean fewer tears, that’s for sure! I remember when you first launched it, I use it to find my great grandmother’s passenger list. Using your site I found that she was listed twice in 1910. The first time was in first class, and then also in second class. I have a feeling they found her in first class and moved her down to second class! But really, I found it because of your site and not the Ellis Island site. So, thank you.
And now of course, you’ve been creating One-Step tools for census records. I’d love to have you give us an overview of those tools. Tell us a bit about what’s on the website. And how can it help genealogists accomplish their goals?
Genealogy Tools at One-Step Webpages
03:24 Steve: Well, it’s whatever strikes my fancy!
I got started with Ellis Island passenger lists records because I was trying to find a particular relative, my wife’s great grandfather. A year later, the website was used quite a bit, and the census was coming out. I got notified by a fellow that I worked with that he was working on the 1930 census. He was he was a volunteer at the National Archives, and he realized that people were going to be coming into find their records, and he wasn’t going to be able to help them. The census was not indexed. It had to be accessed by enumeration district. And these Eds were not easy to obtain.
I realized that would be a fun thing to get into. So instead of being known as a one trick pony – you know, I had the Ellis Island stuff – what if I could do two things? Maybe the site would be a little more important. So, I got involved with the census work then.
Through this fellow that contacted me who I’d worked with, he found Joel Weintraub. So, then the three of us started working on this together.
There are other sections as well. Again, it’s whatever strikes my fancy. I have the vital records section. I have a section for creating your own One-Step search application. I have things that have nothing to do with genealogy at all. They’re all on the website.
So, over all there are 300 tools. I tell people just go through them and see which ones strike your fancy and use them. I know nobody’s going to like all 300 tools, that’s impossible. But hopefully each person will like a certain subset of them. And all those subsets together will be the entire website.
05:12 Lisa: Wow, I didn’t realize there were 300 tools on the website. That’s amazing!
About Steve Morse of One-Step Webpages
So, what’s your background? Are you a computer programmer? Do you do all the programming for the website?
05:26 Steve: Well, I have a PhD in electrical engineering, specializing in computer science. It was not computer science in those days. So, I been in the field ever since – my entire career. I’ve done research, development, consulting, writing, so forth.
The 1950 US Census Project at One-Step Webpages
05:42 Lisa: The 1950 census is just about here. When did you first start working on that?
05:48 Steve: Well, we finished the 1940 census in 2012. When the 1940 census went online, it was about a year later that we first started putting out the call for volunteers. By 2013, we started fetching volunteers to do the work for the 1950 census.
It involved looking at the various cities that we were going to support. We needed to have a list of all the streets in that city, and the EDS that each street pass through. And we did that by looking at the ED maps and using other tools as well.
Working with Joel Weintraub, we’ve had our team about 60 volunteers over the years. They weren’t all working at once, but in total, we had about 60 volunteers.
We set our sights a little higher for 1950 than for preceding years. I forget what the criteria was. But for 1950 we wanted to get every rural area that had a population of more than 5000. And we have succeeded in doing that.
So, we have all those cities index on the One-Step website. You can search any of those cities, by streets. Giving the streets and cross streets, you can get down to the enumeration district.
07:05 Lisa: Oh, that is fantastic!
You know, I just did a video (How to Find Old Rural Addresses on a Map) where we talked about how to take these rural addresses and using your tools, trying to help people figure out where their rural ancestors once lived.
I didn’t realize that there were so many people involved in creating the website. Is the National Archives pretty cooperative and kind of helping you gain access ahead of time?
07:36 Steve: No, we don’t have any access to the National Archives. We’ve had some questions from them. They’ve been very tight-lipped with the 1950 census. They’re keeping it very secret. Of course, the census pages are secretive, but even getting information as to how the census is organized or what have you. We’ve not been able to get much information out of them. We had a lot of cooperation with the 1940 census, but not so much with the census.
08:01 Lisa: Okay, interesting.
How to Find Enumeration District (ED) Numbers in One-Step
Well, we’ve talked a lot here on the Genealogy Gems channel about enumeration districts, or Eds, and the ED maps. But I would love to hear it from the one step man himself, how do we go about finding ED numbers?
For the large cities, use our tool and put in the street. That will give you all the enumeration districts that that street passes through.
Then, you put in the cross streets. That will narrow it down to just those EDs that are common to the street and cross street that you entered. Hopefully you can get down to one ED.
Rural areas are different. We used to have two separate tools, one for large cities and one for rural areas. And that was sort of cumbersome to explain to people, but we had the two different tools. So, I’ve since merged them into one tool with one user interface. (The Unified Census ED Finder)
If you put down the streets in the streets, you’re using it in a large city mode. And there’s a drop-down list of the cities. In the state you select the state. And under City if the city is not on that list, it means we don’t have the tables for that city. So, then you select Other and you type in the name of the of the city. In that case, we’re going to search the ED definitions instead of the street to ED maps. We have the ED definitions, and we search those to see which definitions mentioned the name of that city. And for all of those that are mentioned, we report back. Hopefully there won’t be too many these for a small town. And then you know where to search.
Enumeration District Definitions
How do we give you these ED definitions? Well, the National Archives has them on microfilm, but you can’t go searching on microfilm. So, we’ve had our volunteers actually transcribe all the ED definitions for 1940 and 1950 prior to 1940. For 1940 we did transcribe all the EDs, all the definitions from the microfilm. NARA came to us for 1940 and asked if they could have our transcriptions. They, of course, had the microfilm, but they didn’t have it transcribed. So, we said, ‘sure, absolutely.’ We were glad to give that to them. They haven’t come to us for 1950. I keep saying “yet”, but at this late date, I’m sure they’re not going to. I’m sure they’ve done their own transcriptions.
I haven’t seen their transcriptions. But I’d venture to say that ours are going to be better for the following reason. Since we’re using the transcriptions to search for small towns, and we want to get as many towns in the ED as possible. More Eds than are mentioned in the on the microfilm. So, what Joel has done with the volunteers, is to go through the ED maps and see what other towns are in each ED and add that to the definitions. So, I believe in that case, our ED definitions would be more robust than the ones that the National Archives is going to have on their website.
11:00 Lisa: It sure sounds like it. That’s an amazing undertaking, and what a difference it makes!
Using ED Numbers to Search the Census
So, the genealogist is really going to benefit by knowing the actual address because then they can use the cross streets that you have to really zero in on the exact enumeration district that the address falls within. Please tell folks how that helps when the records are released, and they want to start searching. How do they use that number?
11:33 Steve: Well, of course, we don’t have it up and running yet. But what we plan on doing is, once the census does come out, you would click on the ED number that you just found, and that will take you right to the census pages.
The pages are hosted on some other website, either on NARA’s website, or FamilySearch’s, or one of the large commercial websites whose name I’m not going to mention, because I’m not advertising for them, but you know what I’m talking about.
11:59 Lisa: So how long would that take you? I mean, when the records first get released, and everybody gets access to them? It sounds like kind of a manual job to link up digitized records with the website. Is that going to take a while?
12:16 Steve: You have to know what the structure of their site is, and how you can get onto their site with the ED number.
We’ve been talking with FamilySearch, and they’ve been very cooperative. We’re getting information from them as to how we can link into their site.
So, on opening day, they’ll be very busy ingesting all the material from the National Archives. And so hopefully, we’ll have that information ready before opening day. So, an opening day we can link right into their website. And then at the same time, I’ve also been trying to figure out the structure on the National Archives website and the large commercial website and link into those as well. But we anticipate FamilySearch will be the first one that we will link into.
Enumeration District (ED) Maps
12:58 Lisa: And of course I noticed that right now there are many different kinds of links that do work that are on the website. Tell folks about some of the extra items, the collateral items that they can actually access right now with the links from your website.
13:15 Steve: ED maps sounds like it’d be the best thing if you can get an ED map. Look at the ED map and see what the ED definition is what ED boundaries are so you know exactly what the correct ED is. Problem is the maps are not that easy to use. For one thing, they’re on the National Archives website. But it’s pretty hard to get to them from the National Archives website. You have to go to the catalog on their website, and then type in the correct string that will get you to the ED maps. And it’s not obvious what the string would be. And you can’t really navigate through them by from state to state.
What I’ve done on the One-Step website, is that I put up a tool to get the ED maps from NARA. But you get to it by entering a state and then the county, and then probably a town within the county. Entering all that information will then bring up the maps from NARA for that particular locality. Yes, it’s coming from NARA’s website, but it’s hard to get to from the NARA website. That’s why you can do it in “One-Step.”
14:18 Lisa: Yes, and I can attest to that. It’s much easier and absolutely wonderful to use.
How to Find Census ED Definitions
Maybe this is what you were discussing before, but I came across digitized pages on your website of the book that was describing each enumeration district in more detail. Is that what you were talking about when you mentioned the Census Definitions?
14:41 Steve: Yes, when he’s talking about the definitions, we have a tool that gets you to the microphone definitions. And another tool that gets you to the transcribed definitions. That’s what our volunteers did in transcribing what’s on the microfilm. So, we have tools for doing both of those.
Meaning of Census Occupation Codes
14:57 Lisa: Tell us a little bit about the codes. I know I saw occupational codes. And these are numbers that show up on the census records. If we’re wondering what they mean or the details behind those, your site can help us learn that as well. Tell us about that.
15:17 Steve: Well, for the most part, those codes don’t really tell you that much, although they do in certain cases.
They are codes that were added later by the Census Bureau to group different occupations together so they could get statistics as to how many people did various kinds of work. But you know, what your grandfather’s occupation was, it’s on the census page. So, the code will not tell you anything new, except for the following.
What if you couldn’t read what was written. It’s legible on the original, but on the microfilm copies you might not be able to read the occupation code. But, if you knew the code, you can then look up from the code to see what kind of occupations fell into that code. I have a tool that lets you decode the number that they added.
The census taker wrote down what the person said. The Census Bureau clerk’s later added a code to put people in certain categories. And then the One-Step tool lets you take that code and get back to what the actual occupation was.
You just might be curious to see what the Census Bureau thought about your ancestor if he had an unusual occupation. The example I give in my lectures is Donald Duck. His occupation was he was a trained duck. So, there’s no category “well-trained duck”. So, they had to put him in one of the standard categories. They assigned a number for that occupation. If you then decode that number it says, “hucksters and peddlers”. You now see what the census taker thought about your ancestor’s occupation.
16:59 Lisa: So, are there any other elements of the census or census records that you wish you had more time to work on or that you feel like you would want to add to your website? Or do you really feel like the One-Step webpages has reached the pinnacle of what’s possible with searching these records?
17:20 Steve: I can’t think of anything else. I think if I could, I would have done it.
17:24 Lisa: Exactly!
How to Prepare to Search the 1950 Census
17:27 Steve: With just one month ago (as of this recording), I think we’re in a good position right now. We’re ready to provide the tools that people will need on opening day.
I should mention, people should be using this before opening day to get their ED. They should have a list of the people they want to look up and get their addresses and then get the ED. Don’t leave that for opening day.
On opening day there will be an onslaught. In 2012 for the 1940 census, my website didn’t crash, but the National Archives website did. My website didn’t crash, but it flickered. I typically get between 100 and 250,000 hits a day, which is good considering this is a private website, it’s not a company, that’s a very respectable number. But in 2012, we got two and a quarter million hits! Obviously things have slowed down. So don’t leave it for opening day. Do it now. Get your ducks in a row, get all your ED numbers so on opening day, you can just dive in with the ED number and get right to the census page.
18:31 Lisa: Exactly. And in fact, in the video description for this video, here at the Genealogy Gems YouTube channel, I have some links to a few other videos we have here at the channel to help people get ready. I mean, there is so much that we can do even before the records get released to be prepared and get the most use out of them.
More Uses for the One-Step Webpages Tools
And of course, even after the records get indexed, and are fully searchable, the One-Step tools can still really help us, can’t they? I mean, particularly if you can’t find somebody or you’re just wondering if there are other entries for a person. They can still really prove to be helpful, right?
19:13 Steve: Yeah, even after it is indexed, the Location tools we have will still be very important. I’ll give you several examples as to when you would want to use the Location tools in spite of having a name index.
Your ancestor, your grandfather, came from a foreign country, spoke with a thick foreign accent, and had a long unpronounceable name. Well, the census taker probably got it wrong when he wrote it down. In that case, he had to take his best guess as to what he thinks your ancestor said. And then they had to transcribe all this. Then, another transcriber had to take their best guess as to what he thinks that the census taker wrote down. The census takers’ handwriting were sometimes of questionable quality. So, the chances of getting this right here are less and less. It’s like the game of telephone.
In most cases, you will find your ancestor by doing a name search. But there will be those cases and you’re going to run into them, when no matter how creative you are with the name search, you just won’t be able to find him. You have to do a location search. And that’s where the ED and other location tools come into play.
The other example that I give is when searching by location is useful. Let’s say you just bought a brand-new house and you’re very proud of your house. You want to find out who else lived in this house in prior years. We don’t know the names, but you do know the address. So, you want to find your house in the 1950 census, the 1940 census, 1930 census, and location tools are the only way you can do that.
20:41 Lisa: That’s fascinating. And it’s so true. I remember looking through the 1940 census at my Nikolowski family. The census taker had a hard time spelling Nikolowski but they also got the first name as “Vaulter” because my great grandmother’s saying “Vaulter” (in her accent) not “Walter”. And that’s exactly how he recorded it!
I just want to thank you, on behalf of all genealogists really, for making these kinds of tools available to us. You help us in so many ways be more successful.
More About Steve Morse and One-Step Webpages
We don’t get a chance to talk every day, so while I have you here, I just want people to get to know you. Is there something about you that maybe they don’t know? Or would be interested to know? Perhaps what you do in your spare time when you’re not creating One-Step tools.
21:33 Steve: My hobbies or electronics. My degree is in electrical engineering. It’s really computer science. So, I’ve always loved electricity and electronics, and I play around with that. And I’m a gadgeteer, I build things.
21:48 Lisa: Oh my gosh, well, I can only imagine what’s down in your basement…the kinds of things that you must be coming up with, how interesting!
Steve Morse, thank you so much. I encourage everybody to go visit https://stevemorse.org/. Thank you for being here on the show. It’s been an absolute pleasure!
22:07 Steve: Thank you for having me. It’s been a pleasure speaking to you as well.
The 1950 census must be indexed so that we can search for relatives by name, location and much, much more. You can help with this exciting project, and no special skills or background are required. Jim Ericson of FamilySearch 1950 Census Community Project explains what’s happening and how you can get involved.
Lisa: The 1950 US federal census was released by the National Archives just a short time ago on April 1 2022. But it was just a release of the digitized images of the census pages. The indexing of those records happens afterwards. It’s really the indexing that makes it possible for all of us to be able to search the records and find our families. Here to tell us about that really important indexing project. To get all this done is Jim Ericson from FamilySearch. They are heading up this project. Welcome, Jim.
Jim: Thank you, Lisa. It’s wonderful to be here with you today.
Lisa: I know you guys are so busy. You’re right on the heels of Rootstech which just wrapped up. And now we’re here with the release of the US Federal Census for 1950! Do you have somebody you’re looking forward to seeing in that census record?
Jim: Yeah, both of my parents will be there. My dad will be 20 years old. He turned 21 that year after the census. And my mom is 15, she will just have had her 15th birthday.
I know where my mom was. She was in Salt Lake City. But I have no idea where my dad was in 1950 as a 20 year old. He’d left college and I know that he had enlisted in the in the army. But I don’t know. He also worked in San Francisco for a couple of years. I don’t know if he’ll be in San Francisco, or where exactly where he would have been in 1950 when the census was taken so there’s a little mystery right there.
Lisa: Absolutely, and that’s a perfect example of why the indexing is so important, because you’ll be able to name search for him when this is done.
The History of FamilySearch
Before we jump into that indexing project, for those who maybe aren’t familiar or haven’t used FamilySearch, tell us what familysearch.org does and what it offers the genealogist.
Jim: FamilySearch is a nonprofit organization. We were founded in 1894 as the Genealogical Society of Utah.
FamilySearch is more of a recent incarnation of the organization that kind of reflects when we went online, and when we started publishing CD ROMs in the 1990s.
We’ve been microfilming and digitizing records since 1938. We started a worldwide project to go and collect records from around the world. Microfilm was really the innovation that allowed us to store all those records in a library. Getting a whole bunch of books or physical records in one location was difficult.
Since then, all of our record operations are now digital. All of our records are captured digitally now. We have worldwide operations in hundreds of countries. We publish over about a billion records a year.
As a nonprofit, we partner with commercial entities who have an interest in profit, because we know that they know how to innovate. And that also helps our resources go further through partnerships with these commercial entities. The 1950 census is actually an example of that sort of a partnership. We’re working on this with Ancestry and using the resources that they have.
FamilySearch has a collaborative family tree where you can see what others know about your family. We have, like I mentioned, 10 billion records that are online. We have free resources to learn how to do family history. And we really try to just bring people wherever they are, to the experiences that can help them learn about their family.
(04:32) Lisa: It’s amazing how much it’s grown! I remember the days of the CD ROMs with the record sets that we used to order. And now so much is available for free from home. Users just need to sign up for a free account to use the website and take advantage of the records. And I love the Wiki. It’s such a wonderful treasure trove of knowledge when it comes to genealogy research
Let’s talk about the most exciting and the newest record collection, which is the 1950 census. When it was released by the National Archives did you get all the images? Does that mean instantaneous publication on familysearch.org? How did that work initially?
Jim: Well, 10 years ago, in 2012, when they released the 1940 census, we were actually waiting at the National Archives with a van and hard drives. We had to transfer all the data onto hard drives and take them to our data facility in Virginia.
This time, everything was available online. Everything was downloaded and uploaded to our servers immediately. There was high demand. So that was one of the challenges that we faced was making sure that we’re going to be able to download those images, over 6 million images is a lot of images to be able to download. And those images include records for 151 million people. So that’s a lot of information at high quality, resolution. So that was actually the first hurdle.
And since we are doing this project with Ancestry, we also have to wait for Ancestry to do the same thing and download the images, to be able to process them to create their computerized index with their own handwriting recognition technology that then comes to us. It makes it so much easier to review an index as opposed to starting with transcription from scratch. So, there are so many innovations that have taken place. But from the National Archives, the online delivery of images was one of those innovations.
Lisa: How fantastic to be able to do that online. I can imagine that speeding it up. And then you’ve got artificial intelligence, which is already impacting how we use genealogy websites, how we access digitized books, and here you are using it to help index the records.
I’d love to know kind of a comparison between the speed at which you indexed the 1940 census which I thought was pretty darn quick to how that looks for 1950.
Jim: There is a great question, and we’re still learning how this is going to play out with the 1950 census.
The history of census indexing by FamilySearch
One of the first projects that we did as FamilySearch when we were publishing, CD ROMs was the 1880 census. The 1880 census took us more than a decade to press on to CD ROM. It was a huge project! It was crowd sourced, but before the advent of the internet. It was sending packets and physical papers around and then gathering them and then creating a CD ROM.
We went from a project like that, to doing the 1940 census just over a decade later in a matter of about six months. So already the technology was just astounding because of what you’re able to do because of the internet. Now you have the artificial intelligence, the handwriting, character recognition, and then you have innovations that we’re doing with the crowdsourcing. And all of a sudden, you’re able to take those tasks that we’re all human, I guess bounded by human capabilities, and you’re now allowing the computer to do what the computer can do.
With the 1950 census, we are actually indexing or reviewing this automated index for every single field that was captured in the 1950 census. It’s way more data than we were dealing with for the 1940 census. Because of the cost and the time, we just wanted to make sure that we just had the most logically relevant fields captured, so occupation, and some of those fields were seen as extra fields. But for 1950, we recognize that we can do a lot more in terms of the experiences that we can provide and that these other entities can provide if we have a full index, so that’s one of the big innovations. It’s going really well.
When will the 1950 census index be complete?
We have a goal to get it all done by Flag Day, so that’s June 14. That will be about two months from when we really got the project going and up to speed. That just depends on how many people come and participate.
There’s more than one way to participate. We feel like we have a lot of options, and it’s more accessible than it’s ever been because of how recent (the 1950 census) is. Recognizing handwriting from 1950s is not that different from recognizing handwriting from a week ago. Things haven’t changed that dramatically. And so, it’s a really accessible experience. And these are people that everybody knows. It’s kind of fun to come in and see what you can find in those areas where your family is from.
Innovations in the 1950 Census Index
(11:07) Lisa: Exactly. You said something which I hope everybody really appreciates, which is that you indexing every field. I mean, you must have gotten excited when you heard that was really going to be possible. It’s a game changer because now you can slice and dice data in so many ways. You can look up everybody who worked on the railroad or whatever the fields are that were filled out. What do you think the impact will be of that? Will that change anything about genealogy research?
Jim: Yes, it will. And not just genealogical research but also understanding the makeup of our country in 1950. And really understanding the history of our nation because that is part of your family history is enabled by capturing those additional fields. Being able to see differences in income, differences in occupation from region to region, being able to easily see, neighborhoods.
The address for the 1950 census is similar to the 1940 census in that it’s a vertical capture down the side of the forms. So that is something that just allows people to see what’s there today, if their house is still there. These are experiences that that we’ve dreamed of but without the index it is impossible to provide that sort of an experience. And so now with the commercial entities and what we’re trying to do, you’re going to have a lot of different experiences now that are unlocked and available because of these innovations. And especially with Ancestry’s (technology) it has enabled us to do this.
Is the 1950 census available for free?
(13:06) Lisa: Since you’re partnering together, is it available at Ancestry for free as well as for FamilySearch?
Jim: Ancestry will make their own businesses decisions. But yes, initially, it’ll be available for free. They’ve opened up the 1940 census recently, and that’s been available for free. I don’t know what all their future plans are. It allows them a lot of flexibility on how to do that. Of course, we make everything we can available for free at FamilySearch.
Again, there’s going to be a lot of different experiences that are available around this record set. So, it’s exciting going all the way back to how the National Archives made it available. It’s really democratizing the records. I think their goal is to just make it accessible to as many people as possible. And then it’s these other organizations that have a vision for what they can do with those records.
Lisa: Yes, and you guys certainly had the vision around the indexing project. That’s something that is such a skill that you’ve all developed and really fine-tuned. You’ve been able to crowdsource so much of what then becomes available to everybody.
Tell folks how they can get involved in it. And I’m really interested in some of the changes. I was very excited to hear that people will be able to have, in a way a more personal indexing experience. Tell folks about that.
Jim: Something that everybody wants to do when they come in and volunteer and get involved in a project is to find their own family. That will be expedited. When the index is published and available, after it’s been reviewed, everybody’s going to have that wonderful experience. But even on the review side, we’ve made it so people can search for a specific location down to the county level, or, in some cases down to the city level. Then you can actually search for a surname, or last name within that location. Now, if your family hasn’t already been reviewed, you’ll be able to review it if it hasn’t been reviewed. That just means that it’s going to be published sooner, because progress has already been made. And then you can come back and review it.
How to make corrections to the 1950 census index
(15:42) If for some reason, the person who reviewed it did it wrong, you can still make corrections. We do corrections on FamilySearch. Ancestry does corrections on Ancestry. And we are sharing whatever corrections are made on FamilySearch with Ancestry so they can get the benefit of any corrections that are made on our website as well. So that’s terrific.
For the 1940 census we had 163,000 people come and help and get involved. And with how easy it is for 1950, we think that we’ll have well over 200,000 people who will come and want to review these names.
How to volunteer to index the 1950 census
(16:30) If you want to get involved, there are a couple different places you can go. But the easiest place to remember is familysearch.org/1950census. And on that page, there’s a lot of information. Near the top of the page there’s a big link to join the project and to come over and participate.
The project is ongoing. All the states are there, some have already been published. Come and get involved and see what you can do. It’s going very quickly, and people are really enjoying it. We’re glad that it’s along as quickly as it is.
Lisa: Volunteers can do this from home from their computer. Is there a certain minimum commitment that they have to make or a certain minimum amount of technological ability?
Jim: No. This is again one of the things that’s kind of fun. I mentioned that briefly before there’s actually more than one experience or a way to participate.
(17:42) The standard way that most people who’ve done it before want to participate is what we call the Household Review. With the household review we try to identify from the head of the house, all the members of the household or the family to the next head of the house. That can sometimes cross pages on the census forms. That is an every field review. You can review as many of those fields as you want. And then the next person can come and pick up where you left off. So that’s really fun. It does require you to be on a computer.
(18:27) There are two other types of tasks. One doesn’t require you to be on a computer. You can be on your handheld device, your smartphone. It is what we call Name Review. So, instead of reviewing all of the fields, you can download our app called Get involved. FamilySearch Get Involved is available on the iTunes Store or the Apple Store, as well as from Google, the Android store. You can download the app and you can just start looking at the images where we have the names of the people in the census. Then you can compare that with what the computer thinks it is. You can either say yes, that’s right or no, and you can actually enhance or fix what the name is. You can do hundreds of these in an hour. I’ve done it, and it’s a fun activity. It’s really engaging if you like seeing that you’re making a difference in terms of volume. It’s a really fun way to participate.
Again, the computer doesn’t always get it right. So, you have to be really careful in the review process. But it’s super easy to just look at the image and look at the index value for the name and just make sure it’s right. You don’t have to have the app though.
(20:00) So, there’s the Household Review or the Name Review. And then the other task is the Header Review.
every census image, every census ledger, has a header that includes all of the location information and the information about the enumeration itself. And reviewing that is a separate task. We broke that one out because again, the data is formatted differently. If you want to go in and help us, those have to be done as well to be able to publish the dataset. We invite you to come in and see what states still have the header review available, and you can help us finish out that as well. It’s not as exciting because it doesn’t include the names of the people. But it still has to be done to be able to publish the reviewed index.
Lisa: I hadn’t thought about the header, but that’s pretty important. If that’s not right, then we get way off track pretty quickly. It includes our enumeration district number, the county, etc. That makes a lot of sense.
Well, Jim, it sounds like you guys have really been innovating over at FamilySearch. We’re grateful. We’re grateful that you’re giving everybody watching an opportunity to also give back a little bit and we can all pull together and get this done by Flag Day.
Great news for those searching for ancestors in Canada and Mexico! FamilySearch has partnered with Library and Archives Canada (LAC) to publish the 1926 Census of Prairie Provinces, available to search for free online now. Also new this week are massive updates to...