Genealogy Just Got More Exciting! The 1940 Census is Here

It’s not every day that a new record group becomes available that will help you learn more about your family history. But yesterday, April 2, 2012 was one of those special days! Who will you be looking for?  Do you plan on volunteering to help with indexing?

National Archives Releases 1940 Census

Washington, D.C. . . Ever wondered where your family lived before WWII;  whether they owned their home; if they ever attended high school or college; if they were born in the United States, and if not, where?  Unlocking family mysteries and filling in the blanks about family lore became much easier today with the release of the 1940 census by the National Archives and Records Administration.  By law the information on individuals in the decennial censuses, which is mandated by the U.S. Constitution, is locked away for 72 years.

1940 census archives.com

In a 9 A.M. ceremony in the William G. McGowan Theater, Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero declared the 1940 census officially open. This is the 16th decennial census, marking the 150th anniversary of the census.  Performing the first search, Mr. Ferriero said, “It is very exciting for families across America to have access to this wealth of material about the 1930s.  Many of us will be discovering relatives and older family members that we didn’t know we had, picking up threads of information that we thought were lost, and opening a window into the past that until now has been obscured We now have access to a street-level view of a country in the grips of a depression and on the brink of global war.”

Dr. Robert Groves, Director of the U.S. Census Bureau added: “Releasing census records is an odd event for us; we spend all our lives keeping the data we collect confidential. However, once every 10 years, we work with the National Archives and Records Administration to release 72-year old census records that illuminate our past. We know how valuable these records are to genealogists and think of their release as another way to serve the American public.”

For the first time, the National Archives is releasing an official decennial census online. The 3.9 million images constitute the largest collection of digital information ever released by the National Archives.  The free official website http://1940census.archives.gov/, hosted by Archives.com, includes a database of Americans living within the existing 48 states and 6 territories on April 2, 1940.

“There is a great synergy between the National Archives and Archives.com stemming from our passion to bring history online,” said John Spottiswood, Vice President, Business Development, Archives.com.  He continued, “It has been a tremendous opportunity to work with the National Archives to bring the 1940 census to millions of people, the most anticipated record collection in a decade. In a short period, we’ve built a robust website that allows people to browse, share, print, and download census images. We encourage all to visit 1940census.archives.gov to get started on their family history!”

The census database released today includes an index searchable at the enumeration district level.  An enumeration district is an area that a census taker could cover in two weeks in an urban area and one month in a rural area.

To make the search for information easier, the National Archives has joined a consortium of groups to create a name-based index.  Leading this effort, FamilySearch is recruiting as many as 300,000 volunteers to enter names into a central database.

Questions asked in the 1940 census, which reflect the dislocation of the Great Depression of the 1930s, will yield important information not only for family historians and genealogists, but also for demographers and social and economic historians.  We learn not only if a family owned or rented their home, but the value of their home or their monthly rent.  We can find lists of persons living in the home at the time of the census, their names, ages and relationship to the head of household.  For the first time the census asked where a family was living five years earlier: on April 1, 1935.  This information might offer clues to migration patterns caused by the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression.  For the first time in the census, a question relating to wages and salary was asked. Persons 14 years old and over were asked questions regarding their employment status:  Were they working for pay or profit in private or nonemergency government work during the week of March 24–March 30, 1940?  Were they seeking work? How many hours did they work during the last week of March? How many weeks did they work in 1939?  What was their occupation and in what industry?

The 1950 Census for Genealogy

Countdown to the 1950 Census – Show Notes

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. 

1950 Census Show Notes Cheat Sheet

Premium Members have access to the ad-free downloadable show notes cheat sheet in the Resources section at the bottom of the page. Click here to become a Premium Member.

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.

1950 census release date

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

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:

  • Address;
  • whether their house was on a farm;
  • name;
  • relationship to the head of the household;
  • race;
  • sex;
  • age;
  • marital status;
  • birthplace if they were foreign born,
  • whether or not they were naturalized;
  • their employment status;
  • how many hours they worked in a week;
  • occupation,
  • industry,
  • 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,
  • American Samoa,
  • the Canal Zone,
  • Guam,
  • Puerto Rico,
  • 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

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. 

There are 8000 ED maps for the 1950 census that have been digitized. You can find them at the National Archives website in Record Group 29: in the series called Enumeration District and Related Maps 1880-1990.

An alternative place to find 1950 Enumeration District maps is the One-Step Webpages by Stephen P. Morse website. It’s not only an easier way to find the correct map, but it includes maps not found on the National Archives website. It’s also worth reading the essay on the website called Problems Using 1950 Enumeration District Maps. It will help you better understand how to use the maps.

Links to tools demonstrated:
Search 1950 ED Maps at One-Step.
Unified Census 1950 ED Finder search at One-Step.

 

1950 Census Enumerator Instructions

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.

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.

 

1950 census enumerator at Motor Camp

“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.

  • Old letters
  • Diaries
  • Scrapbooks
  • Ask Relatives
  • City directories
  • Vital Records
  • Occupational records
  • Newspapers
  • Social Security Records
  • 1940 census addresses

3. Use the One-Step website to find Enumeration District Numbers

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.

For more ideas on what you can do now to prepare, read How to Find Your Family History in the 1950 Census.

Watch Next: 1950 Census Questions

1950 US Census Questions

WATCH NEXT: Elevenses with Lisa episode 53 1950 Census Questions

Resources

Beginning Swedish Genealogy: Tips from Legacy Tree Genealogists

Beginning Swedish genealogy can be daunting. But don’t let language barriers or unfamiliar naming traditions deter you! Check out these getting-started tips from an expert at Legacy Tree Genealogists.

This guest post comes from Paul Woodbury, a Senior Genealogist with Legacy Tree Genealogists. He’s an internationally recognized genetic genealogy expert and his varied geographical interests include Scandinavia. Thanks, Paul!

Many people avoid Swedish research because they don’t speak the language and because the names change every generation–like from Ole Olsson to Ole Nilsson to Nils Pehrrson. Despite these barriers, Swedish research can be relatively simple, fun, and successful for several reasons.

1. You can “read” many records without reading Swedish.

Particularly in late 18th and 19th century records, you don’t need in-depth Swedish language skills to make exciting discoveries. Swedish church records of the time were kept in tables and were largely composed of names, dates, and residences. Records include those of:

  • Birth and christening (födelse och döpte)
  • Marriage and engagement (lysning och vigsel)
  • Death and burial (död och begravning)
  • Moving-in lists (inflyttade) and moving-out lists (utflyttade)
  • Clerical examination (“husförhörslängd”)–more on these below.

Dates were frequently recorded in number formats according to the European system (dd-mm-yyyy). As a result, researchers can learn a great deal from Swedish documents with little knowledge of the Swedish language. For the few additional words you may need to learn, consider reviewing this list of words commonly found in Swedish documents available through FamilySearch.org.

2. Family events are summarized in Swedish clerical examinations.

The clerical examination or “husförhörslängd” can act as an index to important family events. Beginning in 1686, each parish was required to keep a household examination for each household. Many early records don’t survive, but copies of these records exist for many parishes in Sweden after about 1780. As part of the household examination, parish priests of the Swedish Lutheran church were required to visit with the members of their parish at least once yearly and test them on their knowledge of the catechism.

Typically, these registers document a family over the course of 5-10 years. They not only include information about the family’s religious duties, but additional information regarding migration, family structure, residence and important family events. If a child was born, he or she was added to the clerical examination, and the birth date and christening date were noted. If an individual or a family moved within the parish, a note was made in the clerical examination with a reference to the page number of the family’s new residence. If they moved out of the parish, the date they left was often recorded along with the number of their entry in the moving-out books. The dates of deaths, confirmations, marriages, vaccinations and communions were also recorded. If you are lucky, additional notes might comment on crimes, physical characteristics, occupations, punishments, social standing, economic status, or other life events with references to pertinent records.

ArkivDigital, Dals-Ed (P) AI:15 (1866-1875), clerical examination, household of Per Johansson, Image 74 / page 64, https://app.arkivdigital.se, subscription database, accessed July 2017.

The above Household Clerical Examination in Dals-Ed Parish in Älvsborg covers 1866-1875 and shows the household of Per Johansson on the farm of Lilla Wahlberg in Bälnäs. The document provides birth dates and places for each household member. It shows that Per’s son, Andreas, moved to Norway in 1872. Another son, Emanuel, moved within the parish but returned after just a month. Among other notes on the document, we learn that Emanuel only had one eye and that he was a dwarf.

3. Many Swedish records cross-reference each other.

Clerical examinations reference other church records, such as those of a child’s birth or a couple’s marriage. But the reverse is also true: birth, marriage, death and migration records frequently reference household examinations. Birth records might list the page number of the child’s family in the household examination. Marriage records indicate the corresponding pages of the residences of the bride and the groom. Death records identify the residence of the deceased. Moving-in and moving-out records frequently report the corresponding page numbers of the farm where a migrant eventually settled or the parish from whence he came.

The yeoman farmer Ollas Per Persson and his wife Greta at a hut in Dalecarlia. Photograph by: Einar Erici, c1930. Wikimedia Commons image, Permission granted Swedish National Heritage Board @ Flickr Commons.

Most clerical examination buy medication for anxiety volumes include an index of farms and residences within the parish. In the case of some larger parishes and cities, local genealogical societies have sometimes indexed all individuals in the volume by name. When researching in multiple volumes, note the farm or residence of your ancestor in the previous record and then search the index of residences near the front or end of the next clerical examination volume. Usually, this will narrow your search to just a few pages out of the book rather than the entire volume.

4. You can trouble-shoot record gaps.

Even when an ancestor’s record trail turns cold, recent publications and indexes created by active Swedish genealogical societies make it possible to pick up the trails of elusive ancestors in earlier and later records. Even if these records do not list the specific pages of interest, they may still provide the reported residences, which can then be located in the clerical examination records.

Occasionally, an ancestor might have moved in a year for which migration records are not currently available, or they might have moved to a larger city with many parishes. Other times, their migration may not have been noted, or jurisdiction lines may have been redrawn resulting in the formation of a new farm and residence. In these cases it may be difficult to continue tracing an ancestor’s record trail. One strategy to overcome these situations is to search the clerical examinations by reported birth date. The birth dates or ages of Swedish ancestors are recorded in many of their records. If you are browsing through large collections, consider searching by birth date rather than by name. Since birth dates were often recorded in their own unique column and are more immediately recognizable than names, this may expedite your search. Even if these strategies still yield no results, searches in indexes may help to uncover an elusive ancestor’s record trail.

5. There are some excellent Swedish indexes and databases online.

In recent years, online indexes and databases have made Swedish genealogical research simpler than ever:

  • FamilySearch.org, MyHeritage.com and Ancestry.com all have large collections of indexed birth, marriage and death records from Sweden.
  • Sveriges Släktforskarföbund has compiled an index of Swedish death records from 1900 to 2013. It includes the birth dates, birth places, names, maiden names, death dates, residences at time of death, age at time of death, and if the individual was married or widowed, the index will also include the date of marriage or the date of death of their spouse. If they were not married, it will indicate their civil status. Click here to purchase the database (the price is in Swedish krona; do a Google search such as currency converter sek to usd to see the price in your country’s currency).  (A related Ancestry.com database is entitled “Births from the Swedish Death Index” and only includes names, maiden name, birth dates and birth places of the individuals in the index.)
  • MyHeritage has partnered with ArkivDigital to provide an index to Swedish clerical examinations between 1880 and 1920. (Indexing is underway for household examinations from 1850 to 1880.)
  • Other indexed collections at ArkivDigital include the 1950 and 1960 Swedish censuses.
  • Ancestry.com has indexes of Gotenburg passenger lists, which can help identify relatives who migrated from Sweden to others parts of the world.

As you can see, Swedish genealogical records from the late 1700s and 1800s can be fairly easy to read, detailed and full of cross-references. It’s often possible to trace a Swedish ancestor in every year of their life from birth to death! So don’t let language or patronymics (naming traditions) frighten you away from exploring your Swedish family tree.

Help is available when you need it

Have you hit a brick wall that could use professional help? Or maybe you simply don’t have the time for research right now? Our friends at Legacy Tree Genealogists provide full-service professional research customized to your family history, and deliver comprehensive results that will preserve your family’s legacy.

To learn more about Legacy Tree services and its research team, visit the Legacy Tree website here.
 
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Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!

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