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

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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

Digital Preservation Library of Congress Style – Episode 75

Genealogists need to know a few things in order to create the highest-quality digital files that they can pass along to future generations. Things like:
  • best practices for preserving a variety of files types
  • understanding the best way to scan documents and photos that will endure the test of time.
  • efficient, automated file backup and storage practices that involve little or no effort.
 
Mike Ashenfelder knows a bit about these things because he worked in digital preservation at the Library of Congress for 16 years. Recently he published a book called “Organizing and Preserving Your Digital Stuff: Easy Steps for Saving Files Like the Library of Congress.” 
 
In this episode of Elevenses with Lisa, Mike Ashenfelder will share how you can apply these professional best practices to your precious files and get them in great shape.

Episode 75 Show Notes 

(Get your ad-free Show Notes Cheat Sheet at the bottom of this page in the Resources section.)

Genealogists need to know a few things in order to create the highest-quality digital files that they can pass along to future generations. Things like:

  • best practices for preserving a variety of files types
  • understanding the best way to scan documents and photos that will endure the test of time.
  • efficient, automated file backup and storage practices that involve little or no effort.

Mike knows a bit about these things because he wrote about digital preservation at the Library of Congress for 16 years. Recently he published a book called “Organizing and Preserving Your Digital Stuff: Easy Steps for Saving Files Like the Library of Congress.” 

Digital Preservation book by Ashenfelder

Available here at Amazon. (Affiliate link – thank you for supporting this show.)

 

In this episode Mike Ashenfelder shares how you can apply these professional best practices to your precious files and get them in great shape.

Changing Digital Formats and Technology

Remember cassette tapes, 8-track tapes, long-playing vinyl albums, 78s, or how about even cylinders? The changing formats of audio over the years is a prime example of how technology keeps changing. And that change forces us as family historians to change too.

Large cultural institutions are faced with the challenge of continually changing digital formats and technology as well. According to Mike Ashenfelder, “it’ll continue to evolve…technology evolves.

Your digital camera takes JPEG photos for instance. My iPhone’s camera, it takes something called .HEIC. I’ve never heard of that up until we got this new camera. But it’s another contender, and there will no doubt be another one further down the road.

The point of my book is that you should save all files in the highest quality, so that you can pass them along to future generations. And yeah, there will always be new software, there will always be new files to save something might be better than .GEDCOM files (for genealogy). You never know. But basically, it comes down to saving, organizing and preserving things as best you can.”

Because file formats will continue to evolve, like archivists at large institutions such as the Library of Congress, it’s critical that family historians keep their eye on the latest standards and take steps to keep up before their current media is obsolete.

Digital Preservation at the Library of Congress

According to Ashenfelder, the Library of Congress received a large government grant in 2000 to study digital preservation and how other institutions were handling it. They pulled in other institutions and shared information. In the end, they discovered that generally speaking cultural institutions “all have the same basic practices.”

At the LOC, Ashenfelder wrote about digital preservation and interviewed a lot of subject matter experts. While there were many similarities, some details varied from institution to institution or project by project. But essentially, it always comes back to following standardized practices that ensured that files could be found. And that’s what we want as genealogists. We work hard to find genealogical records the first time, and no one wants to struggle to find them a second time on their own computer.

As we’ve discussed in previous videos and articles here at Genealogy Gems, well organized, easy to find files are more likely to be retained when passed onto future generations. If our files look disorganized and unnavigable, they run a greater risk of being tossed or lost.

Ashenfelder explains that institutions like the Library of Congress put naming conventions in place and stick to them. If you’d like to learn more about naming conventions and hard drive organization for your digital genealogical files, watch episodes 7 & 8 of Elevenses with Lisa, and my video class Hard Drive Organization.

Preserve Photos Like the LOC

Preserve PHotos

Scanning Photos

Scanning PHotos

File Formats

digital file formats

 

Metadata

Metadata for digital photos

Cloud Backup

I’ve used Backblaze for many years to ensure that all of my computer data is backup on the cloud offsite. Mike said that an executive at Apple recommended it to him as well. Get a free trial of Backblaze (thank you for using our affiliate link if you decide to try it out.)

Backblaze lisa louise cooke

Resources

These show notes feature everything we cover in this episode. Premium Members: download this exclusive ad-free show notes cheat sheet PDF.  Not a member yet? Learn more and join the Genealogy Gems and Elevenses with Lisa family here

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3. Video Player above (Replay) – Available immediately after the live premiere and chat. 

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Five Disbanded Irish Regiment Records in New and Updated Collections

This week in new and updated genealogical collections, enlistment books for five disbanded Irish regiments of the British Army are now available online. Additional collections include records for the Scots Guard, English parish records, Australian funeral notices, New Zealand passenger lists, and Pennsylvania church records.

dig these new record collections

Britain – Military – Disbanded Irish Regiments

The National Army Museum has recently made the enlistment books of the five disbanded Irish regiments available online. This collection allows users to find information on soliders serving in these regiments during 1920-1922.

After the creation of the Irish Free State in 1922, the five regiments of the British Army recruited in southern Ireland – the Royal Irish Regiment, the Connaught Rangers, the Leinster Regiment, the Royal Munster Fusiliers and the Royal Dublin Fusiliers – were disbanded.

These books have now been digitized and for the first time, the records of nearly 12,000 soldiers can be searched online – by unit, place of birth, place of attestation, and year of attestation.

Researchers can see the original scans of each soldier’s entry and may find the recruit’s age and trade on enlistment, names of his next of kin, date of marriage, and the birth date of any children.

The entries also include his address and his rank and character upon discharge.

Britain – Military – Service Records

Over 4,000 records of personnel files and enlistment registers pertaining to the Scots Guards have been added to the British Army Service Records – Scots Guards 1799-1939 at Findmypast. The Scots Guards were one of the Foot Guard regiments of the British Army. They were originally formed to be the personal bodyguards of King Charles I of England and Scotland.

Each record includes a transcript and most include several black and white images of the actual records. The detail within each record may vary, but likely include:

  • First and last name
  • Birth year and birth place
  • Service number (i.e. regimental number)
  • Rank, Regiment, and Unit/Battalion
  • Residence

England – Cornwall – Church Records

This week at FamilySearch, more records have been added to the England, Cornwall Parish Registers, 1538-2010 collection. This collection contains church records from the counties of Devon and Cornwall, covering the years of 1538-2010. The collection also includes some material for nonconformist chapels which were filmed at the Cornwall Record Office at the time of filming Church of England registers. There are also some typed transcripts of Society of Friends marriages included for certain areas of the county.

Minister’s recorded all the baptisms (officially termed “christenings”), marriages, and burials which took place in his parish each year. These records are wonderful substitutes when the civil records can not be located.

The amount of information found on these christenings, marriages, and burials will vary over time, however, you might expect to find:

  • Names and ages of the recorded person
  • Parent’s names and residences
  • Witnesses names and information

England – Warwickshire – Church Records

Also at FamilySearch, new records have been added to the collection titled England, Warwickshire, Parish Registers, 1535-1984. This collection contains baptismal, banns, marriage, and burial records. Banns and marriage record entries appearing together are the most common in this collection. Approximately half the records in this collection are after 1837 entries, and less than twenty percent are pre-1753.

Australia – Queensland – Funeral Notices

Also at Findmypast, a new collection titled Queensland, Mackay, Funeral notices and funeral director records is now available. In this collection, you will find over 44,000 transcripts of records kept by the local firms Melrose & Fenwick and Mackay Funerals, as well as other funeral notices published in the Daily Mercury. Some of these funeral record indexes may provide your ancestor’s age at death and funeral date. The notices posted in the Daily Mercury cover the years of 1955-2012. These notices may also contain the birth year, burial date, and place of the deceased. These records may be particularly helpful if you have been unable to find a death record for your targeted ancestor.

New Zealand – Passenger Lists

New Zealand, Archives New Zealand, Passenger Lists, 1839-1973 is a helpful collection you will find at FamilySearch. This collection contains immigrant registers from New Zealand, covering the years of 1839 to 1973. The collection contains primarily New Zealand immigration passenger lists, although crew lists make up a significant portion as well. Approximately ten percent of the collection is a mixture of other travel-related documents, including goods manifests.

Some of these record images may be difficult to make out due to ink bleeding through or poor handwriting.

If you are able to find your ancestor listed on one of these passenger lists, you may also find the following information:

  • Full name of each passenger
  • Adult or child
  • Male or female
  • Country of emigration
  • Port of entry and date of arrival
  • Estimated age
  • Occupation
  • Total cost of passage and how paid
  • Name of ship and port of embarkation

United States – Pennsylvania – Baptisms, Burials, & Marriages

Pennsylvania baptisms 1709-1760 at Findmypast contain over 4,500 transcripts of original baptismal records kept by Christ Church in Philadelphia. Each record will likely list a name, birth year, baptism date and location, and the names of both parents, including the mother’s maiden name. Rembmer, baptismal records are a great substitute for a birth record.

If Pennsylvania is your targeted research area, you might also be interested in the collection titled Pennsylvania burials 1816-1849. This group of transcripts number over 1,000 and are the transcripts of the original death records from Susquehanna County. Most records will contain your ancestors name, date of death, and place of burial. They may also include important biographical details such as birth years, occupation, residence, names of parents, and name of spouse.

Lastly, over 17,000 new marriage records for Pennsylvania have been added to the United States Marriages at Findmypast. The entire collection now contains over 140 million records. Each record includes a transcript and an image of the original document that lists the marriage date, the names of the bride and groom, birthplace, birth date, age, residence as well as fathers’ and mothers’ names.

Ireland – Newspapers

Two new titles have been added to the over 177,000 articles in the Irish Newspapers collections at Findmypast. The Tyrone Courier and the Mayo Constitution, are now availabe to search. You will be amazed at the wonderful detail found when using newspapers for genealogy!

More Gems on Military Research

Check out the following helpful articles from our Genealogy Gems blog:

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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